In Valkyrie, we’re supposed to root for a group of Nazis who are less mean than the ones in power—Nazis who would eliminate Hitler because he’s a “shame” on Germany. You’ll get no arguments here, but this runs counter to decades of enjoyable hissing at the movies. As a result, director Bryan Singer leans heavily on the mechanics of the real-life 1944 plot, hoping we won’t notice those swastikas so much. A bomb is tucked neatly into a bottle of cognac. Later, a bald munitions expert (Germany’s purring Christian Berkel) demonstrates the workings of a briefcase fuse. Will our hero, the wounded Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), be able to squeeze the trigger with only three working fingers? Pretend you don’t know the ending.
How is Tom Cruise? Never a natural stoic, he’s always better when crumbling into histrionics (Magnolia). The dimensions of Von Stauffenberg’s global heroism must have appealed to him, but Cruise has committed to playing an enormous square, a Nazi who telephones his wife a lot. When Valkyrie tightens the screws like a poor man’s Munich, it’s decent enough. But what I wouldn’t have paid to see the Cruise of Tropic Thunder pull off another brilliant cameo, raging in his bunker behind the button mustache.