Cruise’s Oscar mission: impossible

Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie takes a page from an infamous mischance in history and fails to hit the target

Instead of rekindling his flagging acting career
Image supplied by: Supplied
Instead of rekindling his flagging acting career

Dear Ms. Holmes, Just between us girls, sometimes I wonder why you jumped onto the one-wheel-short-of-functional Tom Cruise bandwagon. I would imagine the man is quite the charmer and when it comes to oral hygiene he is, indeed, peerless. But don’t his abysmal attempts at Oscar-snatching grow tiresome and just a little pathetic after awhile? I hope the one dimension that he has repeatedly brought to the big screen lately doesn’t also infest all aspects of his personal life—I wouldn’t wish such boredom on anyone.

It hasn’t always been this way. Tom’s cinematic performances, I mean. Remember the glory days of Top Gun, Risky Business and Mission Impossible? Maybe they weren’t works of great artistic merit but they were, to his credit, entertaining. Valkyrie, on the other hand, deserves accolades neither for its attempt at high-brow quality nor its low-brow thrill-appeal.

I don’t know if you’ve had the distinct honour of sitting through your husband’s latest pseudo-opus, but I’ve watched beige paint dry in a more meaningful and interesting fashion. If you haven’t lost those two hours from your life, no need to rush out and sacrifice precious time. I’ll get you up to speed in a relatively painless manner.

Valkyrie details the final attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life by German citizens in July of 1944. What makes the event a curiosity is that it was executed by high-ranking members of the German military who, when their side of the war wasn’t looking too good, wanted to establish a government that could make peace with the Allies. The plot made use of Operation Valkyrie, the contingency plan to be put into action should the Führer die. Cruise plays Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg—a commanding officer with access to Hitler and heavily involved in the resistance—who detonated a bomb at Hitler’s strategic stronghold outside of Berlin, at the Wolf’s Lair, during a military briefing. Stauffenberg, thinking that his plot had succeeded, flew back immediately to Berlin in order to mobilize the reserve army to arrest members of the SS throughout German-occupied Europe, claiming the secret police was responsible for the death of Hitler. The plan might have worked if Hitler had died. Unfortunately for Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, the explosives set off at the Wolf’s Lair did not kill the Führer and the lot of them were promptly executed. But that brief cluster of historical facts forms the bulk of the film’s content. Sure there is a brief meditation on nationalism and patriotic sacrifice during which Tom puts on his earnest face. There’s also a half-hearted undercurrent about how Stauffenberg has a young family and isn’t it sad and noble that he forgoes familial peace in order to sacrifices himself for his country. But it didn’t seem as though Stauffenberg was overly fond of his family in the first place, so perhaps this sacrifice was neither particularly difficult nor singularly admirable. The problem with Valkyrie, Ms. Holmes, is that it doesn’t provide any new information or understanding of the July 20 plot that can’t be found on Wikipedia. I suppose Cruise’s draw to Valkyrie was its Oscar potential. History films with big ideas are often a good bet. Not to mention the fact that as he ages, the once-young and carefree Tommy may feel the pressure to make serious movies. Perhaps, though, the man is just trying to re-forge his screen identity. After all, when it becomes apparent that one is playing the back nine, so to speak, continuing to make young buck action movies is a rather unconvincing move.

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