Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Valkyrie - Cruise and Singer Deliver a Solid Conspiracy Thriller

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Movie Review: Valkyrie - Cruise and Singer Deliver a Solid Conspiracy Thriller

There is a tendency to pile on someone when they are down, and in the case of Tom Cruise it seems he may have abetted some of that with his freakishly self-righteous behavior in front of the public eye. His capital with his audience has been severely diminished, then, due to his public persona taking such precedence over his screen one. Add to that the incredibly risky and failing enterprise of his purchase of a stake in United Artists after his unceremonious release from his longtime production partner, Paramount. His first film for UA, Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs (2007) was a flop. His newest one, the troubled Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men), has had its release delayed a few times, now. So what a pleasant surprise it is to report that Singer and Cruise deliver one solid thriller that could help launch Cruise back into critical favor if not necessarily commercial success. The timing for this dark World War II-era drama's Christmas release is commercially ill conceived. Certainly, they have a film that I'm sure they believed had potential for some Oscars in the technical and story realm, which may explain trying to squeeze it out before the end of the year. Frequent Singer collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and cowriter Nathan Alexander have come up with an exciting script based on the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, on July 20th, 1944, hatched by some of his closest officers. The problem is that, as we all know, they failed. It is hard to see how such a downer will succeed during the joyous holiday season. It's a shame really, because Tom Cruise is great in the role of the plot's ringleader, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Frequently dismissed as a celebrity personality more than a true actor, Cruise is excellent in the part. Just like other larger than life movie stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Cruise is remarkably adept at using his public persona to inform and enhance his performances. In this case, the embattled Stauffenberg, carrying the full and sole responsibility for the execution of the plot, and then contending with the ramifications of its failure is not unlike the present Cruise, the embattled actor carrying the full and sole responsibility for the success of this film and United Artists. Stauffenberg's self-righteous arrogance contributes to the implementation of his plan before his confirmation of Hitler's death, a significant blunder as it turns out. Unlike a Sean Penn or Robert De Niro, Cruise is no chameleon in this one, although he can be (see Tropic Thunder). For instance, there is no trace of a German accent in his performance. But Singer effectively dismisses the need for one in the opening of the film using an artistic effect reminiscent of a similar one that occurred near the beginning of The Hunt for Red October (1990). Perhaps Singer is the best director to effectively interpret this story. Singer is an expert at servicing the entire cast in an ensemble drama, as is evident in The Usual Suspects (1995), and his two X-Men films, so that no one seems underutilized. Here he accomplishes that nicely, giving all the actors, such as Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, and Tom Wilkinson, their moments in the film. And the director brings some nice surreal touches to the film, often using the one-eyed Stauffenberg's glass prosthesis to induce a small touch of paranoia at inopportune moments. Recalling some of the best conspiracy thrillers of the seventies, Valkyrie is a suspenseful film that should satisfy even Cruise's detractors. Hopefully, it will succeed commercially as well, saving the perpetually endangered United Artists and Cruise's career. Valkyrie opens nationwide on Christmas Day. This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 12/6/2008.

5 comments:

Dean Treadway said...

I'm very interested in seeing it, especially now. I've long thiought they should make a movie about this subject, and it looks to be a good one.

Jeremy Richey said...

Regardless of any personal issues the man has, Tom Cruise is someone I very much admire as an actor. Glad to hear this is a quality film, I hope it does well for him and Singer.

Tony Dayoub said...

Dean,

I was surprised to find out that this was filmed for TV in 1990 with the late, great, Brad Davis (Midnight Express) in the role of Stauffenberg, the telefilm neing called The Plot to Kill Hitler.

Jeremy,

I agree. I try very hard not to let personal infringe on professional when it comes to movies, or else I'd miss a lot of great stuff from Charlton Heston, Elia Kazan, Jon Voight, John Wayne, etc.

Neil Sarver said...

I've long been a defender of Tom Cruise as an actor, and I can say that the general public had been waiting for his fall for a long time prior to his leap off the edge that made it difficult to defend him or even look at him without snickering.

He's always been a movie star over an actor. He can only play The Tom Cruise Persona, but I can say through the early-'90s when he seemed intent on proving himself as an actor he learned to do amazing and complex things in and around that persona, twisting it around and even using it against itself.

So, I'm intrigued to read this get such a convincing good review here. I have to say, if he's not terrible in this, then he should sue whoever cut the trailer, because it seems intent on making him look like he just stepped off the set of Losin' It into a Nazi costume and started trying to act.

Tony Dayoub said...

Hey Neil,

Welcome to the site.

Regarding Cruise, the best thing about the film is how effectively he works in an ensemble with some world class stage actors. He manages to hold his own while restraining himself from trying to eclipse them.

The film won't win any Oscars, but it is a nice little suspense movie.