Reviewing Cruise's performance in 2006's Mission: Impossible III (in which, among other things, the daredevil star performed his own jump across a 15-foot gap in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), I wrote, only semi-facetiously, "What I'm saying is that Cruise really is superior to us mere mortals, that he's faster and stronger and more focused — and, well, just better — than you or I could ever hope to be, and that this is the very thing that draws us to him, and probably what repels us too." And that remains, I think, a reasonable encapsulation of Cruise's enduring public fascination. Some people love Tom Cruise. Some hate him. Others claim not to pay attention — yet sometimes they are the ones who seem to know the most about him. Simply put, we can't seem to get enough of Tom Cruise, and yet we search for cracks in the gleaming façade, reminders that he, too, is only human.

In the post-couch-jumping era, this has arguably gotten easier. It has been suggested that the star isn't quite as potent at the box office as he once was, delivering a third Mission: Impossible that, while a hit by almost any measure, failed to exceed the gross of the second. Meanwhile, he has been criticized for being the outspoken advocate of a religion, Scientology, that some say has changed their lives, that some mock for sport, and that some say isn't really a religion at all. Never mind that Cruise is hardly the first Hollywood star to champion non-mainstream beliefs or to engage in the occasional act of eccentric public behavior. And never mind that, as Bill Maher ably demonstrated in the otherwise specious documentary Religulous, there isn't a major religion on the planet that can claim to have its underlying tenets verified by scientific fact. (That's where a little thing called faith enters in.) The point, of course, is that we are talking about any of this in the first place, which is a far more compelling barometer of Cruise's staying power than any box-office chart.

Cruise, for his part, is accustomed to the scrutiny by now. "I've had this on movies, this attention," he says. "It's accelerated today, because of the nature of communication, how things get twisted and spun and thrown out there. And also Bryan," he says, momentarily deflecting the focus back to his director. "He's Bryan Singer. He's very famous."

Finishing each other's sentences: The star and the director plot out their scheme to kill Hitler and make a hit.
Finishing each other's sentences: The star and the director plot out their scheme to kill Hitler and make a hit.

"What he means to say," says Singer, "is that my apartment was near to the hotel where Tom was staying, so occasionally, when he was taking one of his very brief rests, I'd get some of his spillover paparazzi."

"I don't know what to do about it," Cruise adds. "When you're making the film, you can't worry about that. You've just got to always go back and make the movie."

Which brings us back to Valkyrie and, in particular, its ending — the one that some have suggested makes the movie a self-defeating enterprise, and that, for all but the most historically oblivious, could only be made more apparent if the film had been titled The Assassination of Claus von Stauffenberg by the Coward Friedrich Fromm.

"I now must defend it," says Singer, who's heard this argument before. "Stauffenberg, at the very end, may not have known, personally, whether Hitler was dead or alive, really, because of Nazi spin propaganda. But the goal, as [Maj. Gen. Henning von] Tresckow said in real life and says in the movie, was to show the world that not all Germans were like Hitler."

"And also to inspire others to stand up against tyranny," says Cruise. "It's timeless."

So, even when the guy fails to complete his impossible mission, he still manages to come out on top. What, really, could be more Tom Cruise than that?

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