By Amy Ryan
September 05, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

Hats off to Tom Cruise. Not only did he finally apologize to Brooke Shields (an apology first hinted at by Cruise’s camp more than a week ago), but he did it without having to renounce his stated views on psychiatric drugs and postpartum depression; in fact, he didn’t have to say anything at all, as he somehow managed to get Shields to do the talking for him, as she announced his contrition on Friday’s The Tonight Show. It’s the slickest and most positive public relations move Cruise has pulled off since he fired PR guru Pat Kingsley a couple years ago.

My question is: Why now? After all, Cruise could have apologized to Shields at any time over the past year. I don’t think it’s because he’s courting her to make an Endless Love sequel. Gee, could he be trying to counteract the surprising and overwhelmingly negative publicity from what should have been an ordinary business story, his split from Paramount?

Two footnotes on the Cruise-Paramount divorce: First, the resignation today of Viacom CEO Tom Freston, who just a few days ago had earned a public statement of support from his boss, chairman Sumner Redstone, only confirms the thought expressed by Cruise’s agents that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing at Paramount. Second, film critic David Thomson makes an observation that I haven’t seen elsewhere: that the real reason Paramount may have decided Cruise’s deal wasn’t worth it anymore is the fact that Cruise is now 44 and probably isn’t going to be making action blockbusters much longer. If he’s now going to have to rely on his dramatic skills, maybe testing them out on Brooke Shields is a good place to start. The word she used repeately to describe his apology was ”heartfelt,” so either Cruise is truly contrite, or he’s a better actor than anyone ever gave him credit for.