Review: Valkyrie (dir. Bryan Singer, 2008)

These days, it is impossible to watch a Tom Cruise movie without thinking of what it might mean to the movie star himself. Two years ago, his Mission: Impossible character got married, around the time Cruise himself got hitched to Katie Holmes. Then, after his antics on Oprah’s show and elsewhere got him in trouble with the media and with the powers that be at Paramount, forcing him to look for work elsewhere, he played a hotshot politician who criticizes a reporter to her face in Lions for Lambs and a foul-mouthed studio mogul who has zero sympathy for the people that work for him in Tropic Thunder. Now comes Valkyrie, the second film to be made by United Artists since Cruise took the reins at that struggling studio, and over the past year, thanks to constantly shifting release dates and rumours of reshoots, the film has acquired the reputation of a “troubled” production. It is tempting, then, to read an element of autobiography into the film, as Cruise plays a wounded German officer who is already unpopular with the Nazi high command when he joins in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler — a plot that we know is doomed to fail.

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Review: Mission: Impossible II (dir. John Woo, 2000)

There comes a moment in Mission: Impossible II when Ethan Hunt, the daredevil superspy played by Tom Cruise, must make a choice, and the scene speaks volumes about the film’s narrative logic. Hunt, after kicking and punching his opponent and performing all sorts of suspiciously fancy martial-arts stunts, grabs the knife that his opponent has just brandished. The opponent, now unarmed, dares Hunt to finish him off quickly. Somewhere, a clock is ticking, and Hunt knows that he is badly needed elsewhere. What does Hunt do? Why, he throws the knife back, of course, and goes right back to kicking and punching.

But who’s complaining? This is, after all, a John Woo movie, and if style must trump common sense, then so be it. Hiring Woo to oversee the latest installment in this franchise was an inspired move. The people in this film are constantly impersonating each other — the removal of impossibly lifelike masks is a recurring motif — and who better to direct this tale of tangled identities than the man who made Face/Off? But unlike that earlier film, which had the offbeat charisma of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage and a surprisingly poignant script, Mission: Impossible II is little more than an excuse for Tom Cruise to flaunt a new set of action moves.

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