Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ride of Die Walküre

I was on the fence about seeing the new Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie. I'm kind of on the fence about Cruise, and not just because the one time I saw him, he kept shooting me dirty looks. (OK, in fairness, I kept sorta staring at him like, "Who the hell is this little guy?" But I digress.) But as an actor, I don't find him particularly compelling. The exceptions are his under-rated performance in Rain Man--I thought he was better in that than Hoffman by a long-shot and, uh, oh, yeah, he was great in Tropical Thunder. Oh, yeah, I liked him in Risky Business, too. (He was good in Magnolia but it almost felt like a rehash of his Rain Man character.)

He seems callow to me, even after all these years.

But I don't dislike the guy, and he has some fine moments in this film about Germans who set out to kill Hitler--and actually more significantly, overthrow the National Socialist government.

I don't buy the rather silly argument that since we know how this turns out, it has no potential to be an interesting movie. We know that the Titanic sank, yet the movie made over a billion dollars. Whatever the Hindenburg's movie's problems were, knowing that it was going to blow up was not one of them.

There are several hundred miles worth of film coming out in the next few weeks all dedicated to WWII, and we know how that event turns out, too.

Silly argument. And, in fact, director Bryan Singer does a great job handling the issue. You do wonder, at more than a few points, whether they're going to be able to pull it off, and while it's in progress, there are times when it seems like they can't fail.

In fact, the plotting and execution of the plot is quite good, but it felt like the movie was waiting to get started up to that point. Stauffenberg is a difficult character to write and play, and the opening character development is sort of hit-and-miss. Obviously, the guy was a bit of a bad-ass, and cool as ice, something Cruise does pretty well. The other side, the more emotional, father, husband, human, is also hit-and-miss, though particularly good during the "let's kill Hitler" and less so during the family scenes.

I found myself, overall, less engaged than I wanted to be. I was distracted by the timeline, for example, since the plot takes place about nine months before the war ended and I kept wondering if it would really help much taking Hitler out when the horse was sorta out of the barn already. (Though a lot of the worst stuff happened at the end of the war.)

I was also distracted by wondering if, at this point, more English-speaking people had played Nazis than there had ever been actual Nazis. The accents are all over the place. Cruise stays American but most of the rest of the cast is English. Except his wife, who is Dutch. Also his secretary. (Both actresses from Black Book.) Some use German accents. All the signs and telexes are in German, though.

Usually this doesn't bug me, but it did, as did a big round of "Hey, who is that?" Bill Nighy, for example, I half-recognized. Like, "That guy looks like Bill Nighy, only thinner. And less funny." Nighy is a great actor, but I'm used to seeing him in silly things like Pirates of the Carribbean. Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are also great, but they're also so very English.

I try to avoid comments like "this would've been better in Japanese" but I have to think this might have been done better with a bunch of no-name German actors.

Or maybe not. The Boy liked it more than I did.


  1. Interesting. I was just discussing Tom Cruise and this movie with a friend. I said that I don't really like him, or what I know of him, but I always enjoy his movies, and thought this one looked like it was going to be good.

    I think I would have been distracted by the accents, too. If you're going to play a German, I think you should have a German accent. Is that asking too much?

  2. My theory is that "Hogan Heroes" killed the German accent for Nazis.

    Who doesn't think of Sergeant Schulz?

    "I see nusssink!"

  3. LOL, blake. True.

    But really...I do expect actors to try to get the accent right. Look at all of the Aussies and Brits, and I think many other heavily accented actors that perform roles with an American accent, and you can't tell.

  4. Cruise did a serviceable German accent in the opening, actually speaking German, but then they phased it out.

    A lot has to do with audience expectations as well. There was a similar confusing accent problem with Redford in Out of Africa. But Jane Seymour insisted that Redford (whom she had tutored) had mastered an appropriate English accent.

    Ultimately they decided Redford just couldn't have an English accent.

  5. My theory is that "Hogan Heroes" killed the German accent for Nazis

    My first German teacher told us to speak and practice with a Hogan's Heroes German accent. I took it to heart. Years later, when lived in Germany for a time, the natives always complimented me on my flawless pronunciation. I kid you not.

  6. Really, chickenlittle? Fascinating!

    I actually love the German accent. I told a friend of mine who is German this, and he was pretty surprised. I guess it's not up there on the list of sexy accents.

  7. And btw, blake, I really like Bill Nighy. He totally cracked me up in Love, Actually, and I really liked him in the Underworld I saw him in. I was thrilled when I found out he was going to be in Pirates.

  8. Oh, no doubt, cl.

    It's just that "HH" made a lasting impression of Nazis as lovable lunkheads.

    The menace has become camp.

  9. Bill Nighy has a small but hilarious bit part in Hot Fuzz, too.

    All the famous people just distracted the hell outta me.

  10. I haven't seen Hot Fuzz. Thanks for telling me.

    I missed a lot of those types of movies because I was always at the kiddie movies for a while. I can finally sneak out and hang with adults. ;-)

  11. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz make a great double-feature.

  12. The accents are all over the place. Cruise stays American but most of the rest of the cast is English.

    I wondered how they were going to work with that accent. Shades of Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: huge movie star can't be bothered to figure out accent. I mean, if he could do it, he would, wouldn't he? It'd be a feather in his cap of acting credibility. Even if he could only do an English accent, that would be better. (Aren't there movies where all the bad guys have English accents and the good guys have American accents? Or maybe I'm just thinking of Star Wars, where The Empire seemed loaded with snooty accents.)

  13. I don't know about Costner but Cruise clearly could've done the accent.

    I'm hearing a lot from people who weren't bugged by this at all, so I might simply have been in a mood when I saw this. (The Boy was not bothered, e.g.)

    Yeah, knox, I think there have been movies where the bad guys have English accents. I'm sure I've made that observation before, recently. It might have been another WWII movie, too, where the Americans were American and the English played the Nazis.

    Star Wars, of course, has that issue because of all the shooting in England, except for the American leads--but then there's Alec Guiness and C3PO (Brit) and James Earl Jones (American).


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