JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)

In Jerry Maguire, the most recent film by writer/director Cameron Crowe, Tom Cruise is Jerry Maguire -- and, for all practical purposes, Jerry Maguire is Tom Cruise. This hot shot sports agent squarely fits into the Cruisian hot shot canon, booming all the way from All the Right Moves to next year's Mission Impossible 2. Maguire embodies all of Cruise's usual traits: He's brazen, mildly self-centered, and a master of his game. And this time, he wheels and deals in the high stakes world of sports marketing with trademark aplomb while, of course, managing to captivate everyone with his winning personality.

Yet, one night, Maguire's tender side unexpectedly awakens. Momentarily disgusted by his life as a "shark in a suit," he writes a "mission statement" encouraging his agency to follow a simple precept -- "Fewer clients, less money, more personal attention." And here the trouble begins. Fired by the company he helped to create, estranged from his (patently evil) fiancee (Kelly Preston), and seemingly forgotten by his multitude of acquaintances, Jerry Maguire must discover himself -- if he is the man he wants to be, or the man he has become.

Geared towards fans of both buddy films -- vis a vis Maguire's sole remaining client, football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr., in an Oscar-winning role) -- and romantic comedies -- thanks to Maguire's sole remaining believer, single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), Jerry Maguire surpasses the sum of its marketing parts. More than anything, it is a tightly written and thoroughly enjoyable character study of a guy who's great at friendship but terrible at intimacy, a man who knows everyone but himself.

Crowe displays an uncanny eye for character detail, his skills having improved substantially since Singles. From the main trio down through the supporting cast, his creations act and interact as complex, ambiguous, multi-dimensional people, an uncommon treat in the Tarantino era of characters defined by sound bites. Moreover, the entire cast breathes life into Crowe's taut words and deserves commendation, particularly Gooding, Zellweger, and, of course, Cruise. While we've seen him save the world and/or excel in his field of the moment often enough, rarely has Cruise seemed so remarkably human.

[First appeared in Harvard Independent, 1996.]

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