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Challenged by 'Going Clear,' another test awaits Tom Cruise

Published:Wednesday | May 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Tom Cruise

NEW YORK (AP):

When Janeane Garofalo asked Brad Bird, the director of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, about Tom Cruise at a recent Tribeca Film Festival event, she peppered Bird with allusions to the Scientology documentary Going Clear. Bird called it "a very inside reference", but Garofalo quickly disagreed.

"Not anymore," she said. "That documentary ... wooo! Going Clear, we could talk about that all day!"

That's probably not what Tom Cruise or the makers of the next Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, want to hear. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney's documentary based on the book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Lawrence Wright, was a revelation to many and a certain challenge to Cruise, who in recent years has quieted his public advocacy for Scientology.

cruise silent

The film and book did more than anything before to expose the secretive organisation and detail some troubling claims involving Cruise, Scientology's most famous face. Cruise has yet to say anything publicly about Going Clear, a silence that may be difficult to maintain, given the high-profile demands of promoting a summer blockbuster hoping to make some $700 million worldwide.

Cruise's stardom has long had a Teflon indestructibility, having survived one of the most notorious of public-relations disasters in 2005 when he ditched his longtime publicist for his sister, Lee Anne DeVette, a Scientologist; dramatically wooed his eventual third wife, Katie Holmes; and jumped on Oprah Winfrey's couch.

Ten years later, a documentary may be a seemingly small threat to a global star who has already weathered media storms over his Scientology beliefs. Or Going Clear could persist as an acute challenge to Cruise at a time when his box-office clout may be waning and in a media age where privacy seldom lasts.

The impact of Going Clear has also been unusually large. When it aired on HBO on March 29, shortly after premiering in theatres, it became a trending topic on Twitter. Critics called it a "powder-keg" and a "scorching takedown of Scientology."

accountability

Wright and Gibney insist Scientologists are free to believe what they want, but maintain the church should be held accountable for what they claim is frequently abusive treatment. The film-makers have pressed for change in either Scientology's tax-exempt status or through its influential celebrity figureheads: Cruise and John .

"There aren't very many alternatives and law enforcement agencies are stymied," says Wright. "What's left is for journalists to call attention to what's going on and at least inform people.