The buzz surrounding Valkyrie has been nothing less than toxic. As its release date kept getting pushed back, the ever-growing ranks of the Tom Cruise Schadenfreude Brigade began whispering that the film would be the controversial actor’s Battlefield Earth or Gigli, a career-mangling instant punchline. But Valkyrie has the curious quality of being neither good nor bad enough. Any film that casts the quintessentially American Cruise as an eye patch-sporting, one-armed German officer plotting to kill Hitler has a camp potential equal to or greater than The Apple, but Valkyrie is frustratingly competent instead of gloriously inept. Bryan Singer’s solid direction and some flavorful supporting performances from the dependable likes of Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, and Tom Wilkinson keep Valkyrie within the realm of handsome mediocrity.
Valkyrie miscasts Cruise as a heroic officer wounded in battle in Africa who spearheads a military plan to kill Hitler and surrender to the Allies during the waning days of World War II. Cruise’s righteous brigade runs into all sorts of snafus, however, when he discovers that he cannot trust some of his collaborators, especially a weak-willed officer played with squirmy vulnerability by Nighy. Of course, even D-level history students know that the last of many German plots to kill Hitler didn’t succeed, so after the plot fails, the negligible suspense dissipates completely and the film becomes a matter of waiting for the hammer to come down on the conspirators.
With few exceptions, like his nearly unrecognizable turn in Tropic Thunder, Cruise doesn’t disappear into his roles; his roles disappear into him. Singer inexplicably allows Cruise to retain his boyish American inflections, probably because he didn’t want to distract audiences with the spectacle of Cruise wrestling with a Teutonic accent. Alas, Cruise’s accent helps destroy the film’s always-shaky verisimilitude. (His isn’t the only incongruous accent on display: the English thespians get to keep their plummy native inflections as well.) The mishmash doesn’t make for a terrible film, but doesn’t result in a convincing one, either. Despite its potential to be a turkey for the ages, Singer’s blandly proficient historical thriller is fatally forgettable