Tom Cruise has played dreamy barman, hotshot secret agent man, loveable fighter pilot, teen underwear model, money-showing sports agent, cop-of-the-future, multiple kind-hearted lawyers, saviour of the universe, p*ssy-obsessed motivational speaker, self-righteous hitman, wannabe Samurai warrior, lisping girly vampire, and a racing driver called Cole Trickle.
But (with the possible exception of that disgusting bald guy who shook his ass through ‘Tropic Thunder’), he’s really only ever played Tom Cruise. ‘Valkyrie’ is little different. No German accent. No Oscar-baiting attempt at genuine transformation into a real-life historical figure. Just Tom Cruise in an eye patch and Nazi uniform. This is clearly no biopic with the accompanying attention to detail, or even the truth.
Get past that and Bryan Singer’s pulpy World War II thriller has all the reckless abandon, intrigue, and flagrant disregard for realism of trashy genre classics like ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, and ‘Where Eagles Dare’. In other words, it’s a crackerjack.
The ending’s no state secret. There’s more emphasis on subterfuge, plotting, and paranoia than frenetic action. But ‘Usual Suspects’ screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie keeps the fuse burning fiercely throughout. His telling of Claus von Stauffenberg’s unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler is a study in creating ? and, more importantly, sustaining – tension which the talented Singer then effortlessly escalates with a character’s sideways glance, an unexpected camera angle, or a sudden stab of music. Certainly, the director’s got one of the ultimate villains at his disposal, but a simple meeting between our hero and Der Fuhrer turns into a figurative waltz on shattered glass.
It’s these breathless moments, enhanced by the fine supporting cast of Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson – all quiet efficiency and plummy English accents – that camouflage Cruise’s familiar performance. His war hero is reduced to one part stoicism, one part idealism. But with the world to save, who cares. This is Hollywood, baby.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.