Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, June 20, 2005

Failure of the Day: Studies in Mediocrity

On Saturday for my regular Dawn Movie Ritual I watched Collateral on OnDemand cable. It was OK: predictable, but a reasonable passing of 2 hours. Jamie Foxx may or may not be a good actor—it’s hard to tell from just one movie—but he is riveting. It’s hard to stop looking at him. I don’t know why that is, I only know that when he’s onscreen, I’m looking at him and not at anything else. Charisma is kind of a wondrous thing.

Tom Cruise is also mesmerizing, but for completely different reasons. I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of it for some time now. Separate and apart from the spectacular train wreck he seems to be in his personal life, in his movies, he has, as near as I can figure, some sort of depth threshold that he just cannot cross. His acting is OK, it’ll do. He is occasionally pretty darn good, and I have enjoyed him in a few of his films, especially those in which he is expressly not heroic, but I think he is prime evidence of just how far you can go on good looks, training, and ambition. Which is to say; how far you can go with everything except talent. Turns out it’s pretty damn far.

I’m making a distinction here between mediocre and bad, by the way. I don’t think TC is a bad actor. One of the lessons of Tom Cruise is that a lack of talent doesn't necessarily make you a bad actor. But you do need to make some kind of effort, as became clear on Sunday morning when I watched Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate. That’s a crap movie from the word Go but it has to make TC weep with gratitude for the miracle of relativity.

But there’s that damn line. And I swear, I can see it when I am watching TC onscreen. The character he’s playing exists on the top layer of his skin and goes down an inch or two and then stops. You can still see the Tom Cruise underneath. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how much he studies his craft and develops his character, you can still see it. And that fascinates me.

I tell myself that I am suddenly so interested in this because I would like to avoid being mediocre myself, and so I am looking the enemy in the face, knowing it, learning to recognize it. Chris thinks it might be just that I like to watch dumb movies, though.


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