Tom Cruise spent twenty years on top. Or almost. From 1986’s Top Gun through to 2005’s Mission: Impossible III, the man was one of the world’s most bankable stars. Then he married Katie Holmes, and it ruined him. That or the couch jumping. Or the scientology. Or the seriousness. Or the fact that he was on top for so long, but came across as awkward and self-serious, and all those bad movies like MI:2 caught up with him, or something.
Maybe he pissed off Steven Spielberg – who was supposedly not amused that TC hurt the War of the Worlds box office with his schtick – but he left Paramount, which had been his home since Top Gun (he worked elsewhere, but they were his base). Ben Stiller helped him by giving Cruise a show-stopping cameo in Tropic Thunder. And though Valkyrie was looking to be a disaster when it moved from an October to February release date. But MGM did a smart thing and put it out in Oscar season. Sure, the film was never meant to be a contender, but it had the pedigree. And so the film did a little over $80 domestic, and a bit more than that internationally. Strange that this might be considered a comeback. But the film attempted to marginalize its star, and surround him with talents.
Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who falls into a group that wants to kill Hitler. He teams with people like Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp and Eddie Izzard to do this. Tom Wilkinson works against him, but also with him. Carice Van Houten plays Cruise’s wife, and has nothing to do. What a waste.
Valkyrie is better than you’d think it’d be. But even though the ending is what it is (SPOILER: Hitler doesn’t die yet), I kept waiting for the film to grip me. It never did. Cruise is fine enough, he’s just not as great an actor as the people who he’s surrounded by. And though director Bryan Singer does an excellent job with the material, I just didn’t find it all that overwhelming to suck me into a story that has a resolution evident from even the most basic understanding of history (Dinosaurs at UN?) The film does have a third act, which surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it to come alive then, and it does to some extent as the plan goes into play and things don’t end exactly as you might think, and the movie doesn’t choke you with fatalism. But at the end of the day, it’s better than you’d expect, but not much of a movie at all. It’s not much of a comeback for anyone involved, though it does make me hope that Signer finds a better script next time out.
MGM presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS HD 5.1. The transfer is immaculate. Extras include a commentary by Cruise, Singer, and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie that is reasonably engaging. There’s also a second track with McQuarrie and screenwriter Nathan Alexander. There’s a making of “The Journey to Valkyrie” (16 min.). Quick question: Is Chris McQuarrie turning into Stephen King? There’s a visual guide to “The Road to Resistance” (10 min.) that walks through the film’s plot and locations, then there’s a featurette on the African Front sequence (7 min.), “Taking to the Air” (8 min.) focuses on the real airplanes used. “Recreating Berlin” (6 min.) goes into the production design and history of the film. “92nd Street Y: Reel Pieces with Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer” (39 min.) has the two talk about the making of the movie. “The Valkyrie Legacy” (114 min.) is all about the history of it. Also included is a digital copy.