Tom Cruise delivered one of the year’s best performances, and it wasn’t in a movie.
In an audio recording leaked from the London shoot of Mission: Impossible 7, Cruise is heard excoriating two crew members for breaking the film's stringent Covid-19 safety measures.
What they did exactly isn't clear, but it was enough for Cruise, both the film’s star and executive producer, to see red.
Over three minutes, he delivers a withering monologue full of spleen venting fury, with a little dash of the trademark idealism that made him a box office king.
"We are the gold standard. They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us. Because they believe in us and what we’re doing,” he says. “I’m on the phone with every (expletive) studio at night, insurance companies, producers, and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies. We are creating thousands of jobs…I don’t ever want to see it again.”
Further enraged at his crew's apologies, Cruise explains the high stakes at play.
"No apologies. You can tell it to the people that are losing their homes because our industry is shut down. It’s not going to put food on their table or pay for their college education. That’s what I sleep with every night," he says. "I’m beyond your apologies. I told you and now I want it, and if you don’t do it, you’re out."
From 0 to 100 in seconds
While it’s debatable whether the scale of the reaction was warranted, Cruise’s rage is a side of him rarely seen by film goers on or off screen, which is why his outburst, even if it was necessary, has attracted such attention.
From Nicholas Cage warning an errant crew member "not to touch me, if you want to live" during the 2007 Australian shoot of Ghost Rider to Christian Bale going off at a crew member for strolling behind during an intense scene in 2009's Terminator Salvation, on set freak-outs are nothing new in Hollywood.
What makes Cruise’s outburst draw global headlines is the perception that it's out of step with the heroic characters he is known for.
While that may be the case for the casual film viewer, dig a little deeper into Cruise’s work and behind his smiling veneer is a deep pit of rage, both controlled and calibrated, that powers his major performances.
That ability to go from 0 to 100 on the intensity scale in seconds has resulted in many of the actor's best moments.
In 1986's Top Gun, it arrives when his character Maverick, drops cocky bravado for an ice-cold stare when called out by his nemesis, the fellow air force cadet Ice Man, played by Val Kilmer.
In 1988's Rain Man, that sudden fury shocks when Cruise, in the role of Charlie, grabs the neck of his special needs brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), for causing a minor scene in a restaurant.
And who can forget the ultimate court room scene in A Few Good Men when Cruise the lawyer screams "I want the truth," to a snarling Jack Nicholson on the witness stand. Cruise's fury wasn't the outrage of injustice, instead those bulging eyes captured the anger of his character, Daniel Kaffee, in a moment of vengeance, getting his own back on an institution whose orthodoxy treated him with contempt.
When it comes to Jerry Maguire, Cruise's passion for his job and client, footballer Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr), is almost pathological. Under a different screenwriter, the film could have easily taken a sinister turn without skipping a beat.
Cruising on the dark side
And these are just the movies where he plays the good guys.
In the rare occasion when Cruise truly goes dark, it has often been a revelation.
Fans first got a taste of this in 1981 film Taps.
Cruise plays a frighteningly unhinged David Shawn, who joins a group of fellow military men in taking over their school to save it from closing.
Cruise was out for blood, literally, again in 1994's Interview with the Vampire.
Based on Anne Rice's gothic novel, fans were left aghast at his portrayal of vampire Lestat, who went about the city leaving a trail of bodies thanks to his insatiable blood lust.
Then there was his loathsome Frank Mackey in 1999's Magnolia. In one of his career's best performances, Cruise channels a sleazy charisma as a pick up artist who built a career off exploiting and manipulating women.
As for the mother of all his on-screen meltdowns, you can't go past his gloriously bonkers take of the foul-mouthed and ill-tempered film producer Les Grossman in the 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder.
In a way, Cruise's meltdown in that dark comedy mirrored the real one exhibited in Mission: Impossible 7.
Sure, the swear words in London were kept relatively minimum and there was none of Grossman’s promises to “massacre” anyone, but it was the rage of a determined producer striving to get his film made in the best possible way.
While Cruise would have undoubtedly wanted his fit of pique kept within the closely guarded set, it provided an insight into a successful career born of a talent precocious as ferocious.