The core of Tom Cruise’s ongoing superstar appeal to audiences is relatively self-evident: He’s a doer. His characters do things that encourage us to believe that we can do things. It’s too easy to say that Cruise came of age at the perfect place and time—the gung-ho American 1980s—and rode that rollercoaster to the bank for something like 30 years and counting. Cruise is shrewd and adaptable, and he’s probably still in the game because he informed his fame with a quietly autobiographical aura. He lets his work show, and so his desperation to be “taken seriously” as an actor while staying forever youthful parallels his characters’ various self-actualizing yearnings.
Cruise is a continued subject of fascination for critics because his everlasting prominence as a star is noteworthy regardless of any further context and, more interestingly, because of that tendency to always assume that still waters run deep. Cruise is so polished, and his performances so clearly, nakedly hyper-controlled, that he can’t help but invite scrutiny of neuroses and of more-obvious-than-usual bridges between art and commerce. Cruise’s self-consciousness implies a peek behind the curtain of how Hollywood works, and critics, obviously, are concerned with the symbology embedded in Hollywood product. Control, whether artistic or personal, is, fittingly, the theme of Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, and the star’s tricky simultaneous courting of fame and artistic credibility is the book’s logical through line.