Tom Cruise in Cannes: The red carpet, a talk and those fighter jets above

Following an 'In Conversation with Tom Cruise' which was part of the events surrounding the 'Top Gun: Maverick' world premiere, Cannes had a 9/11 moment.
Tom Cruise in Cannes: The red carpet, a talk and those fighter jets above

Having a sit down with Tom Cruise to shoot the breeze on our own might be one of the most fascinating things ever. I'd definitely ask him how his choice of films has changed since he became a dad, and why he insists on doing his own stunts even though I'm sure his three children might miss him terribly if something were to happen to him.

But French journalist Didier Allouch clearly stuck to the pre-agreed questions during the 'In Conversation with Tom Cruise' event inside the Salle Debussy on Wednesday afternoon. And that was a shame. Of course, Allouch was trying to guarantee himself continued access to the Hollywood actor in the years to come and made mention repeatedly of "the last time we spoke" and "that time I interviewed you" in so-and-so year, for this or that title.

Personally, I can't say I came away from the talk any more enlightened about an actor who seems fascinating both as a man and as a filmmaker. I probably know less about him now than I did yesterday.

Yes, I'll admit it, I do share Thierry Frémaux's enthusiasm when it comes to Tom Cruise. The Cannes artistic director introduced the talk and repeated what he told members of the press during our intro conference before the start of this year's festival. "Tom Cruise is an actor who makes films for the big screen," and one "who when he embarks on a project the film is always a beautiful one." In fact, this next project of Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick is no exception. Action packed, adrenaline pumped and full of his unique brand of metrosexual testosterone --- all we've come to expect and love from the diminutive actor.

It was a bit disappointing to sit through the 45-minute talk, preceded by a nearly 20-minute montage of Cruise's work highlighted by soundtracks, stunts (always performed by the actor himself!) and closeups. Cruise's face, despite him approaching the 6-0 mark and a few lines and to-be expected softness in tone, is still that of a young, handsome man. His energy is infectious and his voice inimitable.

As he took his seat on stage, Cruise said candidly, "I want to say this is a beautiful moment and what a privilege seeing your faces after all we have been through." It was special indeed, sharing the space with thousands of people, elbow to elbow inside a theater, finally, after two years of online meetings and screening links. Cruise often used words like "fortunate" and phrases like "I never take anything for granted." But beyond that, it was impossible to see behind the facade we have come to expect from a man known perhaps as much for his secrets and religious affiliations as for his films.

References to his first film Taps kept coming up. How the actor, then 18 wanted to learn all aspects of the craft and how the film was a formative one for Cruise. "I'll never take anything for granted," he admitted and then later said "if I don't understand something I'm not afraid to ask." 

Perhaps one of the most quotable things Cruise said during the talk was about his choice of films. "I make movies for audiences because I'm an audience, first and foremost," adding that inside the Debussy, as in a film theater "all of us together, we are united as a community in a shared experience." Also poignant, "in cinema preparation is everything" and amen to that. About continuing to make films as well as doing all his own stunts, Cruise admitted "I always know there is another story," but his constant mention of how "privileged" he is to do what he does, over and over again, might make for a good sermon but is a bit of an oversell during a conversation about cinema. And I couldn't help but remember him shouting at crew members about Covid protocol on the set of MI7.

After the chat, I walked quietly along the Croisette and at one point, noticed a motorcade of official festival BMWs, preceded by a formation of police motorbikes coming up, heading for the red carpet. Car upon car passed me in the complete quiet of the street, which had been blocked off for the moment and was devoid of passerbys too. The last car, had the passenger side back window cracked open, and its precious passenger looking out with interest at the world awaiting his arrival.

However, the magic and silence were soon broken by the fighter jets flying in unannounced, spewing colored smoke and sounding like a repeat of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As a New Yorker who lived through it, it was traumatic and all too real, and I wasn't the only person to feel that way. Not to mention the loud fireworks later in the evening...

All photos by © Ammar Abd Rabbo, used with permission.

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