Tom, Katie, and the End of Hollywood’s Most Ill-Fated Marriage

The most interesting detail to leak out so far about the Cruise-Holmes divorce spectacular is that Katie Holmes used a burner to call her lawyers and start the divorce proceedings. Usually reserved for drug dealers and people having affairs, the disposable phone was a particularly stealth move on Holmes’s part. She didn’t buy it herself, but had a friend procure it. It means that Cruise presumably found out his wife was leaving him at the same time everyone else in the world did. He had no time to plan a public counter-strategy or beg her privately to stay. It also makes you wonder if her phone was being tapped, or if she had a reason to be paranoid it might be.

It’s another crushing humiliation for Cruise, once a bulletproof A-list actor in a star system that now barely still exists. His highly promoted “sexy” guest turn as an aging ’80s rocker in Rock of Ages bombed, overmatched by the unstoppable crotch-thumping of Channing Tatum inMagic Mike. No amount of talk-show visits or interviews can make Tom seem human, yet somehow in a career full of performances playing exceptional men driven by incredible circumstances, Cruise has never played a superhero. He should get Darren Aronofsky to direct him in The Death of Superman and make it his Death of a Salesman.

While Sean Penn has prestige and Robert Downey Jr. survives on a diet of expertly delivered quips, fellow 1980s castaway Cruise can’t find his way in the new digital world. Tom’s whole image was dependent on mystery, sunglasses, a sly glance, on leaving out some information while highlighting other things. The firing of Pat Kingsley, the PR flack who kept his connections to Scientology curtained off and strictly controlled access to Cruise, was the beginning of the end. In the era of nonstop access, there can be no mysterious persona, and so there can be no Tom Cruise. During these divorce proceedings, Katie Holmes has shown herself to be savvier with PR than Tom could ever dream of being.

Katie Holmes

Like the Kennedys or the royal family, despite their incredibly high public profile, much of the real action in the Cruise-Holmes story has taken place behind closed doors. When a beloved couple splits up, people often say “but they seemed so happy,” as if a public display of togetherness could never be an overcompensating front. There are information gaps between our knowledge of the divorce proceedings and the marriage itself. There’s a point A and a point C, with a redacted blur where point B goes. Normally that’s when things become none of your business. But in the case of Cruise, who jumped on that couch on Oprah to demonstrate his fanaticism for his then new wife, all’s fair in fame and Schadenfreude.

Ever since Tom Cruise smacked down Brooke Shields and called Matt Lauer “glib,” his public image has become that of a weirdo live wire. His last great role was in 2004, in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Although he would do well to transition into playing more villains, he has insistently continued to portray mostly heroes and mavericks. Tropic Thunder aside, he shows an aging leading man’s vanity about his looks. Oiled up on a W cover this year in character as Stacee Jaxx, Cruise looked about as desperate as one of those free magazines advertising escorts.

TomKat

Meanwhile, Katie Holmes is suddenly a hot commodity again, buoyed by new interest in her career. Her decent turns in The Ice Storm and Goand Wonder Boys are dug up as evidence that she was once a promising actress. While her Dawson’s Creek castmate Michelle Williams has become an awards-season darling, Holmes has done only minor work in recent years. Her biggest role was as Jackie O in a controversially conservative miniseries called The Kennedys that barely saw the light of day. It seemed a perfect fit; the wife held hostage by her husband’s career, curiously silent in the face of outrageous behavior by her spouse.

Tom Cruise was supposedly attached to star in an upcoming Clint Eastwood version of A Star Is Born, opposite Beyoncé. Remade several times, A Star Is Born is the story of a young actress and her fading superstar husband’s anger about his wife’s surpassing success, a touchy subject for both Tom and Beyoncé. Maybe Cruise will channel his hurt and rage into the part, prove he can really act worth a damn, and win an Oscar. But he’ll probably make that Top Gun sequel and force the Les Grossman movie into production.

When Holmes entered into marriage with Cruise after a suspiciously short and over-the-top courtship, I don’t think any of us expected her to come back alive, let alone swinging. The idea that being married to Tom Cruise would be any kind of fairy tale fantasy evaporated somewhere after Jerry Maguire. He belongs to a very weird cult and seems like a control freak. Rumors that Cruise auditioned several actresses for the role of his wife before settling on Holmes paint him as a grandiose creep. The harsh spotlight on Scientology will probably not let up soon. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film on the subjectThe Master, comes out later this year.

After several years of solid turns in indie films and one much-maligned role in Batman Begins, it seemed like Katie’s career would only benefit from being aligned with Cruise’s. But instead she became a famous wife and mother (especially mother) who occasionally did a movie or TV. When she performed a glazed Judy Garland tribute to “Get Happy” on the 100th episode of So You Think You Can Dance, it was the most bizarre thing I had seen on the Fox network since The Swan, like some weird corny robot had taken over her body. That was the first time I thought Katie Holmes might want out.

Maybe Katie Holmes thought she would enjoy the stability of an older man with an established career after struggling to prove herself as a serious, bankable film actress. Maybe she decided that being well-provided-for was a decent tradeoff for making certain kinds of personal decisions. Maybe she thought it would be nice to settle down and let someone else take the reins for a while. And then maybe she changed her mind. Even without Scientology or rumors about sexuality, plenty of people end up divorced.

Katie’s first post-Tom project is producing a movie she co-wrote called Molly, about a single mother and her daughter in New York, which I’m sure will be stripped for possible tells and reveals. What does Katie Holmes say about Tom Cruise behind closed doors? What does she say on the phone and with her friends? What does she say to their daughter? How did she seemingly ensure that she received primary custody of Suri? At its heart this is a mystery. So far it’s one with a decently happy ending.

There’s all kinds of places Katie Holmes can go with her life starting now. She’s been granted a mulligan on the last five years of her career. She apparently designed a fashion line called Holmes & Yang, from which she fired Tom’s daughter Bella two months ago (foreshadowing). Katie should headline a Broadway revival of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House or play a female version of Liam Neeson in Taken. For Tom Cruise there’s only one place left to go: Quentin Tarantino.

Filed Under: Katie Holmes, Scientology, Suri Cruise, Tom Cruise

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert