Valkyrie was shot, whenever possible, on the locations where the events depicted actually occurred, with historian Peter Hoffmann on hand as an adviser. But for all the film's scrupulous attention to detail, Cruise and Singer insist that they intended Valkyrie first and foremost as a thriller, and they're right to do so. Anyone coming to the film expecting a probing inquiry into the conflicting ethics and philosophies of Hitler's Germany, or even an irreverent romp on the order of Paul Verhoeven's Dutch resistance tale, Blackbook (from which Valkyrie borrows several actors), will perhaps be disappointed by this modestly scaled, unironic (and, above all, unpretentious) wartime thriller about good Germans and bad Nazis. By the same token, those who fondly remember watching just such movies on TV while sitting upon their father's knee are likely to be delighted. Think of it as an object lesson in Alfred Hitchcock's famous definition of movie suspense as showing the audience a ticking time bomb under a table. Only Valkyrie is that rare ticking-bomb movie that gets more suspenseful after things blow up.
"We could have made this a three-hour movie," says Cruise. "This could have been an entire Stauffenberg biopic. It could have been an Olbricht biopic. We worked seven days a week on this thing. From the moment we started, rarely was there a day that went by..."
"That we didn't see each other," says Singer.
"Or talk on the phone or go location scouting," Cruise continues. "And Bryan would take all this information, all of these pieces, and he kept always going back to the structure of the story -- the film that he wanted to make. This is, at its core, a suspense thriller."
Yet, even as Singer kept things focused on the essentials, both director and star felt the burden of historical responsibility that came with telling a rarely told story from a war that (if this fall movie season alone is any indication) continues to cast a long shadow across the landscape of popular culture.
"You had to swear to God to one man," says Cruise with audible disgust about the oath -- heard over the opening titles of the film -- that even non-Nazi German soldiers were obliged to pledge to Hitler. "You couldn't think for yourself. It was not about country."
"And that was something that Stauffenberg found intolerable, and so did the other conspirators," Singer adds. "And they felt that very early on. [German general Ludwig] Beck resigned in '38 in protest, and a lot of these guys would go to Beck or complain to [field marshals Erwin] Rommel or [Erich von] Manstein. A lot of them hated Hitler, but they were part of a system, and they were constantly trying to find a way out of it, or a way to confront Hitler or bring him down. And with the years and with Hitler's security and the war, it grew more and more difficult. It was by virtue of Stauffenberg's injuries -- it has almost allegorical proportions -- that he was delivered to this place where he had the access and could do this thing that was already on his mind to do."
"The thing that I felt confident about was Bryan as a filmmaker, and the script," says Cruise.
"And the fact that the guy's trying to kill Hitler!" says Singer. "Who, as a kid, doesn't ... ," he begins to ask.
"Who doesn't want to kill Hitler?" says Cruise, flashing that blinding smile. "I was, like, 'I want to kill Hitler!'"
So what can I tell you about Tom Cruise that you don't already know? Probably nothing, unless you've been living in a media-free hyperbaric chamber for the past 25 years (and if you have, far be it from me to disturb your peace). For although the 46-year-old Cruise (née Thomas Cruise Mapother IV) first appeared on movie screens in 1981, with a bit part opposite future tabloid sparring partner Brooke Shields in the teen romance Endless Love and a more substantial supporting role as a military cadet in Taps, it was exactly a quarter-century ago that he came into his own as a matinee idol with four consecutive 1983 releases. That was the year Cruise secured his membership in the nascent "brat pack" as the greaser Steve Randle in Francis Coppola's impressionistic rendering of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders before moving on to top billing as a horny SoCal teen headed for Tijuana in Losin' It, a genteel 1960s roustabout farce directed by future L.A. Confidential Oscar winner Curtis Hanson. Next, Cruise slid across the hardwood floor of a suburban Chicago living room and shot to the top of the box-office charts in Risky Business. By year's end, he had delivered a disarmingly earnest dramatic turn as a blue-collar Pennsylvania high-school footballer angling for a college scholarship in the tough-minded sports drama All the Right Moves.