Tom Cruise received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia.
Magnolia is a large ensemble film with many intersecting stories but the only performer nominated from the entire cast was Tom Cruise as the sex self help male domination guru. Cruise certainly gives an audacious performance here that he very different from anything he did before this performance. This is not say Cruise does not use some of the same methods in terms of his acting as some of his earlier performances, but never in support of a character quite like Frank T.J. Mackey the seduce and destroy guru. Cruise though uses some of these common techniques in a vastly different fashion.
Cruise never lets the fact that he is Tom Cruise get in the way of his performance as Frank Mackey. He never apologizes for a moment for his character's beliefs or actions. He absolutely becomes Mackey with the utmost conviction never once winking to the audience otherwise or even acting like underneath the performance he thinks poorly of Mackey, through his whole performance Cruise is utterly devoted with the character and does not waver for even a moment. This devotion of Mackey is shown in every scene particularly in his opening seminar scene.
In his first seminar scene Cruise effectively exudes the confidence in Mackey, and his undying to devotion to his ideas and his cause. Cruise finds the perfect way to portray the methods of Mackey, and just the sort of parody, without ever being a parody, of a self guru with a rather insane concept for what he completely believes in. Cruise is properly magnetic as well as energetic in these moments, and honestly sells the whole rather bizarre concept of Mackey's seminars through his performance. Cruise honestly is the guru and makes the character believable.
The meat of his scenes involve his interview with a female reporter though. Cruise stays effective as he shows even on a one on one interview Mackey still keeps the same style acting like some sort of aggressive animal at all times. In these scenes though Cruise also effectively shows the weaknesses behind his seemingly overflowing confidence. Cruise is terrific here because he does not overdo the weaknesses in Mackey and makes his character's revelations over his past subtle. The small little moments in his performance that suggest the pain and vulnerability of Mackey Cruise infuses well with his far more extroverted moments.
As Mackey when asked about his past Cruise carefully only suggest that he is hiding something. Cruise is interesting here because he basically just goes through his past quickly, but when questioned about Cruise shows that Mackey almost attempts to charm his way through it. Cruise probably has never used that smile of his in a film better than he does here. He shows it as basically almost an attack in Mackey's disposal for both his method, and to avoid facing his past which the interviewer wants him to do. Cruise continues to succeed as Mackey becomes more and more pressured to face what he doesn't want to.
Cruise is interesting as he tones down the charm of Mackey who starts his tactics, and Cruise shows a predator looking for a single weakness while making the smallest attacks. Cruise's smallest facial gestures in the scene are absolutely brilliant as he shows in full view Mackey's rather lowly method that really loses any charm it might of had when he feels attacked. Cruise effectively portrays Mackey's loss of confidence well particularly in his second seminar where he loses any magnetic quality he had before, and just seems much more lost and overly emotional.
His pivotal moments come in his final scene where he finally does face what he was trying to avoid, and that is seeing his dying estranged father (Jason Robards). Cruise does make the most of these final moments as all of Mackey's defenses go away and he talks to his dying father. Cruise is effective in his portrayal of the hatred he feels for his father due to his treatment of his mother. Cruise shows a vulnerability and sadness in Mackey that honestly quite moving despite Mackey previous actions in the film. When also suffering the grief over his father though again Cruise is terrific in his almost silent portrayal near the end effectively realizes the long troubles and issues with his father in a single scene. Cruise might not be my favorite actor, but he is absolutely brilliant here absolutely succeeding with a character that could have gone wrong in a great number of ways but never does.