Friday, January 9, 2009

Tom Cruise: German soldier, eye-patch wearer

This sounds like a recipe for hilarity, right? Well, it turns out that Valkyrie, a rather somber retelling of an attempted coup of the Third Reich, does not suffer as much from Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise as one would think.

The film makes the unprecedented move of letting its actors use their native accents instead of poorly imitating German ones. Now, to the well-conditioned American movie-goer's ear, hearing Tom Cruise speak as a German soldier the same way he would as Maverick from Top Gun is a bit jarring and absurd at first, but think of it this way: if Germans in a film are already speaking English to each other instead of German, why would they have to speak English with German accents? Authenticity at that point has already gone to lunch, splurged on dessert, gone home, and taken a siesta, frankly. (Exhibit A: Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker.) The film in general deals with this issue nicely, particularly in its opening scenes, and really positions the American and British accents we hear as part of a translation for our benefit from German to English.

Cruise, in spite of a couple moments of overacting (I would remind him that this is an historical film, not an action flick), remains fairly inoffensive. The story of the coup itself is compelling enough such that whatever ridiculousness he as a Hollywood icon might bring to the part can't really do much damage. Perhaps after considering this performance combined with this past summer's Tropic Thunder, we can declare him on the road to redemption? Cautiously, my mind wanders down that path.

This film, however, is not without its moments that will make you laugh when you shouldn't be laughing (Nazis, after all, are NOT funny, right? Well, unless they're singing "Springtime for Hitler," maybe.). The interactions between Cruise's character and his wife, for example, do not tug at any genuine heart strings. And oftentimes pointed stares between characters are ambiguous and frequent enough to either confuse the viewer or act as arbitrary filler.

If anything, you should take a look at Valkyrie just to see all your favorite actors over the age of 50 wearing military uniforms (I had to ask myself, "Who ISN'T in this movie?"). In the end, though, I'd say Defiance starring Daniel Craig (a personal favorite of mine, so I may be biased) looks like a much more promising slice of WWII filmmaking.

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