Who’s In It: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Jamie Parker
The Basics: Tom Cruise is Nazi Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a real-life historical figure who launched a failed attempt on Hitler’s life. That it all goes wrong is kind of his fault, which should make him an interesting, flawed, almost-hero. But see the first two words of this review? The ones spelled T-o-m and C-r-u-i-s-e? That means he brings his usual approximation of human behavior to the role and unless you’re a superfan you just won’t care about the man's performance. It’s like Tropic Thunder never happened.
What’s The Deal: Counterbalancing the energy vacuum that is Cruise is the good news that this is also a Bryan Singer movie. And since he’s the talented man who made The Usual Suspects and X2, that means he knows how to keep both the action moving around his stiff-upper-lipped star and the audience engaged. He also allows the supporting actors to shine, so you have the pleasure of watching Bill Nighy and Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson play flesh-and-blood-having people torn between their inner selves and their Swastika-emblazoned uniforms. They took my mind off Cruise—that and the 3 Musketeers bar I snuck into the absolutely-no-food-or-drinks-allowed press screening.
As Usual, The Sole Actress Is Given Bugger All To Do: Unless you’re Nicole Kidman and you have Stanley Kubrick bossing you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband around, and he’s making sure your role is equally fleshed out into whatever shapes he chooses, to be The Woman in a Tom Cruise movie is usually a losing proposition. Carice van Houten, who’s already shown moviegoers that she’s capable of just about anything in Paul Verhoeven’s way more awesome and weird Nazi movie Black Book, gets to weep and hug Tom Cruise here. Oh well, it’s work. And the check cleared.
What “Based On A True Story” Means: That any lingering questions about the real von Stauffenberg (who was an old-school German aristocrat with all the usual class and race prejudices that sort of thing carries with it) and his possibly more complicated views on Nazi ideology are tidied up in the name of streamlined storytelling, making you—and, by extension, Germany and their somewhat less than welcoming stance on Scientology—get on board with Tom Cruise. Love him now, Germans, or he's going to produce a remake of Berlin Alexanderplatz.