120 minutes. PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. One and a half stars out of four.
Much ado has been made about “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as would-be Hitler assassin Col. Claus von Stauffenberg.
There is the release date, which has been moved around several times until finally being set for Christmas, the perfect time for a feel-good movie about killing Nazis. There’s the marketing of the film: Is it a historical thriller featuring Cruise in an eye patch, or is it a straight-up action picture full of explosions? And then, of course, there is the Cruise factor itself — the fact that his very presence adds a layer of tabloid-friendly fascination.
Turns out Cruise is both the central figure in “Valkyrie” and its weakest link. He’s distractingly bad in this, the iconography of his celebrity so strongly overshadowing his performance. He’s just too powerfully contemporary. With his hard, flat American accent, he stands out in every single scene. And he’s not a good enough actor to immerse himself in this kind of period piece, or allow us to do the same. (Then again, if he had affected a German accent — or a British one to blend in among his co-stars — he would have invited derision for that, too. Maybe the guy just can’t win.)
It’s too bad, too, because “Valkyrie” looks great. With its impeccable production design and German locations — including the Bendlerblock in Berlin, where Operation Valkyrie began and where members of the anti-Nazi resistance were executed after it failed — it feels substantial, never CGI-fake, and it moves fluidly. No one ever doubted the ability of Bryan Singer, director of the first two “X-Men” movies, to make a solid, energetic actioner. But — and this is going to sound like more piling on — Cruise undermines the potential of “Valkyrie” at every turn.
He’s outclassed and outmatched by every member of the strong supporting cast, any of whom would have been more believable as Stauffenberg: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Bill Nighy as fellow German officers, even Eddie Izzard, who’s a unique and unexpected choice.
We never get a sense of inner conflict, of the doubt he may have felt in betraying his duties, of the fear he may have faced in putting himself and his family in danger by going through with the plan. When Stauffenberg states with clenched-jawed, hushed certitude, “We have to kill Hitler,” we’ll just have to take his word for it that he feels strongly about the task he’s about to lead.
Marley & Me
123 minutes. PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language. Two stars out of four.
Aww, look at that cute, fluffy puppy in those “Marley & Me” ads.
He’s so sweet and innocent with those pleading eyes and that shiny, red bow around his neck. It almost makes you think you’re in for a feel-good comedy about a rambunctious yellow Lab and the family who loves him no matter what chaos he causes.
Well, “Marley & Me” is all that, but if you’ve read the best-selling memoir by John Grogan that inspired the movie, you also know that it has more than its share of hanky moments. Watching all those heart-tugging stories play out before your eyes on a giant screen, though, we’re not talking about just a tear or two welling up — we’re talking grown men and women snuffling and sobbing uncontrollably, then dashing from the theater before the lights come up to avoid making eye contact with all the other blubbering saps.
Seeing the ending, in all its horrifically sad detail, is bad enough if you’re a grown-up (and a dog person). If you’re a little kid expecting a happy puppy movie, “Marley & Me” could cause serious trauma requiring hours of therapy and many scoops of ice cream to repair.