Sunday, 31 January 2010

Valkyrie (2008)

I wonder how many people I will upset if I admit that I have never really liked any film in which Tom Cruise starred. This is not to say that some of them haven't been watchable (if disposable) or that his cameos in both "Magnolia" and "Tropic Thunder" weren't good fun. I also seem to remember that I was vaguely positive quite recently about "Interview with the Vampire". My reaction has little to do with his "religious" beliefs or his personal life, but with the smiling, cocky persona that he so often inhabits. He comes across as the little boy who believes he can do no wrong. His character is awfully "samey" in so many of his movies -- whether he is conquering impossible missions or aliens.

This film which he also produced may well be of some interest to history buffs, but trying to pass Cruise off as the aristocratic Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the driving forces behind one of many plots to kill Hitler, just doesn't work for me. Director Brian Singer and his "Usual Suspects" screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie have turned out a suspense movie without suspense. It's not just that most people over the age of 25 (or am I pitching that too low?) know that Hitler was not removed by any conspirators and that his eventual death was by suicide, it's a question of holding an audience's interest for the best part of two hours where the outcome is well-known. With its surfeit of named characters, this draggy movie -- however faithful it may or may not be to history -- is largely boring, and I soon tired of Mr. Cruise strutting about in his eyepatch, polished boots, and apparently amputated hand.

While his character mouths the politically correct platitudes about why Hitler must go, it seems to me that his motivation stemmed largely from the war injuries which had ended his military career and from the fact that he could clearly see that the war would soon be lost. By the early removal of Hitler, he would have been securing his own future, but not to prove -- as at least one other character voiced -- that not all Germans were uncaring brutes! When he and his cronies attempt to put their plans into action without definite confirmation that Hitler is actually dead, von Stauffenberg keeps exclaiming that he must be, since he himself saw the bunker exploding. Each time he says this, Cruise sounds more and more like a petualant schoolboy.

It didn't bother me particularly that Cruise was the only American-sounding German in this film, since one accepts the movie-making convention of actors speaking with their own accents. In fact he was just about the only American-speaker in the cast. His lovely wife was played by "Black Book's" Clarice van Houten, who unfortunately was given very little to do. It was the largely English cast of co-conspirators that saved this movie from being totally unwatchable. This supporting cast led by Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and even Kenneth Branagh in his relatively brief turn were uniformly believable and could have given Cruise a few pointers on more subtle screen acting.
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