By Amy Ryan
August 25, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

How many people buy Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s assertion that it was Tom Cruise’s antics — most of which took place before his studio greenlit Mission: Impossible III — that led Paramount not to renew its production deal with the actor? Movie City News’ David Poland suggests that many reporters have gotten this story wrong (my favorite ridiculous theory: that Redstone cut Cruise loose because the actor’s Brooke Shields-bashing had alienated Mrs. Redstone), and that Redstone has craftily played everyone, making himself look like a hero in boardrooms in Hollywood and on Wall Street for appearing to rein in out-of-control talent. After all, Paramount could have just issued the standard press release citing ”creative differences” and saying, ”We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Instead, Redstone has effectively undermined the authority of Paramount studio chief Brad Grey (who finally broke his media silence to insist that business will go on as usual with major industry players) and Paramount/DreamWorks big shot Steven Spielberg, both of whom appeared to have been blindsided by Redstone’s public spanking of Cruise. The recent statement by A-list talent agency CAA (which represents Cruise) suggesting that no one is minding the store at Paramount may echo a wider sentiment throughout Hollywood.

Cruise, on the other hand, has actually played this the right way, largely by keeping his yap shut. Sure, the couch-jumper has stirred up plenty of ill will (though if this second-hand account is true, he’s finally sorry about the Brooke-bashing). And yes, the Cruise camp’s claim that they’ve secured $100 million in private financing seems premature; it’s certainly news to Cruise’s own lawyer. Still, does anyone doubt that Cruise will find a lucrative deal somewhere else eventually? He still sells tickets and DVDs worldwide. Even if Paramount wouldn’t meet his terms, someone else will.
Honestly, I can’t believe I’m defending Tom Cruise, especially after the way he bristled last summer when I dared to mention aliens and Scientology to him in the same breath at a War of the Worlds press conference. But when even Matt Lauer thinks Cruise is the victim of a double standard, it appears that it’s time to join Team Cruise — at least until he tries to make us laugh on purpose.

addCredit(“Tom Cruise: Jun Sato/”)