Monday, 9 February 2009

Valkyrie: Near miss for the Fuhrer or Cruise?

For once, a Cruise display the public won’t be laughing about, writes Chris Sayer.

In recent years, his persona has spiralled recklessly out of control. From squirm-worthy displays of affection on the Opera Winfrey show, to his beliefs in Scientology and the validity of his relationship to Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, it is fair to say, hasn’t been taken all too seriously of late.

However, this year’s release of Valkyrie is a chance for him to claw back some credibility.

Cruise spearheads an all star cast as Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg: the brains behind the final attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Flanked by an array of British familiar faces, including Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Kenneth Branagh, the plot is laid out from the start. Germany is destined to lose the war as long as the Fuhrer is still alive.

Valkyrie revolves around the madness of Hitler’s leadership as the reason for the German downfall and the assassination attempts. Unlike most war recreations, director Bryan Singer omits any Allied responsibility for the disarray in the Nazi party, instead fronts it as an internal problem, giving the picture a fresh and unbiased stance.

The influx of multiple accents within the cast, however, hinders the suspension of disbelief and keeps the audience at arms length from becoming engrossed with the events. In fact most of the time spent during the two hours is thinking back to where you saw that actor or what she has been in before.

The majority of the audience will know how the film ends before they enter the cinema, posing Singer with one major problem: how to keep the audience sat in their seats. Cleverly, Singer chooses to involve Stauffenberg’s wife and very Aryan children as the subject of tension as to whether they escape Hitler’s grip. Maybe a weak way out, but perhaps the only option as the fate of the main characters is sealed before the title credits scroll up.

It seems a very risk-free role taken on by Cruise, with the blanket of respectable actors buffering any criticism with their far more charged performances. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid performance, but one not worthy of any awards. More notably is David Bamber’s extremely dark and twisted portrayal of Hitler, especially as former credits have only really come in the form of minor film and soap roles.

Singer and Cruise have obviously both played a safe card in a potential mine field of upset and criticism. It won’t be a film you have to see over and over again, but without doubt its underlying few-against-many message will have you thinking long after it is over.

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