Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire begins at a point most movies would build up to. Sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is one of the most successful guys in the business. He's got big clients, he's engaged to a beautiful woman (Kelly Preston), but he's disgusted with who he's become. So, one fateful night during a convention, he drafts a "mission proposal" for the business, emphasizing ideals, integrity and personal attention over money. Needless to say, the powers that be are not happy with Jerry's sudden realization.

Enter single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), who is an accountant in the same agency where Jerry works. Dorothy is so inspired by Jerry's ideals, she makes the spontaneous decision to join him when he's booted from the agency. It's a Tom Cruise movie, so you can expect an inevitable romance developing here, but it's a very well-paced one. Jerry and Dorothy embark on a mission to succeed on their own with Jerry's only remaining client, Ron Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a second-tier football player with an outrageous personality and a big chip on his shoulder. Tidwell implores Jerry to "show me the money."

Writer/Director Cameron Crowe has built his reputation slowly, directing only three features in the last seven years (He also wrote 1982's Fast Times At Ridgemont High). Each time, though, he progressed to a new level. Say Anything (1989) was about young love and leaving high school. Singles (1992) went out into the real world, with characters who just wanted to meet people they could be happy with. Jerry Maguire is by far Crowe's most assured work, with excellent characters and real heart (not to mention another director-trademark Eric Stoltz cameo). Crowe's focus is not as narrow as in his previous films, however. Instead of concentrating a few episodic situations and filling the rest out with humorous asides, he expands the characters, letting _them_ fill out the film. Crowe balances the comedy and drama effortlessly, allowing his characters to drive the humor.

Cruise turns in a great performance as Maguire. The character still fits the mold of a "Tom Cruise" part, but he doesn't drag it down to the level of early Tom-Cruise-charm driven characters. Cuba Gooding, Jr. starts off in what could  be a one-note, over the top performance, but eventually, he  brings it down to earth for some great moments.

Unfortunately, most of the attention has been focused on the male characters. Zellweger is an attractive young actress, but she is not given a great deal of substance here, which could have moved the audience past a weak initial impression. It's not that her performance is bad, or that the film suffers because she isn't as well defined,  but she is only given a few scenes where she can shine. Regina King, on the other hand, makes a great impression in her few scenes as Tidwell's wife. Her character is not given a great deal to do, but we can sense how important she is in her husband's life.

Jerry Maguire is absolutely one of the best movies of 1996, but probably not "Oscar" material. The Academy tends to ignore mass- audience targeted films. Still, few "commercial" films this year attempted this sort of depth with their characters (two divergent and unusual films, The Frighteners and Swingers are the only ones that come to mind). Cameron Crowe develops his characters in a way that has a measure of predictability, but feels real, because we relate to them.

Jerry Maguire has a handful of truly great scenes, and a very engaging story, making it's two-hour-plus running time feel comfortable rather than dreadful. This film should please a wide-range of audiences, and hopefully, they'll all come out feeling better about themselves their ideals.

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