By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 19, 2008 at 5:33AM
Clearly, Tom Cruise is not the mega-star he was when MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan gave him and then-partner Paula Wagner a piece of United Artists. Now he has the flop Lions for Lambs behind him and Bryan Singer's tarnished Valkyrie looming ahead--the film that looks like more of an expensive art house play than a commercial one. And having lost his partner Wagner last week, Cruise now runs UA alone (with ongoing help from hard-charging MGM prexy Mary Parent).
According to the LAT's Rachel Abramowitz's assessment of Cruise's career crossroads, the star walked away from Edwin A. Salt because of its Mission Impossible feel to do The Tourist instead. And he bailed on The 28th Amendment when he and Warners couldn't agree on which part he should play.
The details on the 28th Amendment scenario reveal a good deal about what Cruise is looking for in roles. Cruise played a doctor in Eyes Wide Shut, a U.S. Senator in Lions for Lambs, and a German World War II hero in Valkyrie (a role that I hear is quite moving). Cruise also earned raves in a cameo role in Tropic Thunder as a fat balding venal producer.
According to both Warners and director Phil Noyce, Cruise wanted to play the role of the president in 28th Amendment, a maverick third party independent candidate who gets elected to the highest office in the land only to discover that a cabal runs the country and he has no power. During a coup d'etat attempt, the president finds an ally in a burned out special forces operative who helps him to overcome the shadow government and set things right.
The studio, however, wanted Cruise to play the operative, which the star deemed too close to Mission Impossible. "He'd totally score," says one Warners exec. "It's a fantastic heroic character." But Cruise was more interested in the president. The studio didn't want Cruise to play the commander-in-chief because he carried too much baggage. "It was so front and center, a lightning rod kind of part," says the exec. "Don't set yourself up to be kicked in the nuts."
"I truly thought Tom would be great in the role of an outsider elected to the highest office," says Noyce. "The studio was always more than happy with Cruise for the original role, but wanted to explore further possibilities for the president, including Denzel. For them, it was about finding the right balance between the two leads, in a very high budget political thriller."
WB approached Washington to play the president. But he balked, at a time when Obama is running for that office. Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie signed on to Edwin A. Salt at Sony for a proposed February shoot. With 28th Amendment stalled at WB, Noyce went over to Salt. "A study of the American psyche at the end of the Bush era, 28th Amendment is the kind of movie that might not have found a studio backer at any time since the Nixon White House," says Noyce, who'd happily rejoin the project if he could put it together again, with Cruise, or someone else.
Cruise is also considering taking on a DC comic book character in Sleeper, possibly with director Sam Raimi. He's an operative with alien powers who is impervious to pain.
I had lunch last week with a former Paramount marketing honcho who always found Cruise to be pleasant and professional, even when the studio would have preferred that he back off a tad during the War of the Worlds PR debacle. Cruise first changed PR direction during The Last Samurai, parting ways with PMK press agent Pat Kingsley, because she told him that he should not openly espouse his Scientology beliefs. He insisted on doing just the opposite.
Cruise finally paid dearly for that heartfelt decision. Viacom head Sumner Redstone tossed him off the lot after a disappointing return on the last Mission Impossible installment. And now after Lions for Lambs, the biggest flop of his career, Cruise can't get Warners to let him play the president. Wow.
The official studio synopsis of Valkyrie is on the jump:
Release: December 26, 2008
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander
Produced by: Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Gilbert Adler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann and Terence Stamp
In a country in the grips of evil, in a police state where every move is being watched, in a world where justice and honor have been subverted, a group of men hidden inside the highest reaches of power decide to take action. Tom Cruise stars in the suspense film, VALKYRIE, based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (CRUISE) and the daring and ingenious plot to eliminate one of the most evil criminals the world has ever known. Director Bryan Singer (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, X-MEN, SUPERMAN RETURNS) re-teams with Academy Award¬Æ-winning USUAL SUSPECTS screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie to bring to life the story of the men who led the operation to assassinate Hitler. The film also stars an acclaimed cast including Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Christian Berkel and Terence Stamp.
A proud military man, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is a loyal officer who serves his country all the while hoping that someone will find a way to stop Hitler before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realizing that time is running out, he decides that he must take action himself and joins the German resistance. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler‚Äôs own emergency plan ‚Äì known as Operation Valkyrie ‚Äì these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government from the inside.
With everything in place, with the future of the world, the fate of millions and the lives of his wife and children hanging in the balance, von Stauffenberg is thrust from being one of many who oppose Hitler to the one who must kill Hitler himself.
VALKYRIE is produced by Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler. McQuarrie co-wrote the original screenplay with Nathan Alexander who also serves as co-producer. The executive producers are Chris Lee, Ken Kamins, Daniel M. Snyder, Dwight C. Schar and Mark Shapiro.
The film was shot in Germany at various locations where many of the actual events occurred, including the historic Bendlerblock. Recreating the atmosphere of urgency and paranoia inside the German resistance is a team that includes Singer‚Äôs frequent collaborators Newton Thomas Sigel (SUPERMAN RETURNS, X2, X-MEN) as director of photography and editor/composer John Ottman (SUPERMAN RETURNS, X2); as well as production designers Lilly Kilvert (two-time Oscar¬Æ-nominee for THE LAST SAMURAI and LEGENDS OF THE FALL) and Patrick Lumb (THE OMEN) and costume designer Joanna Johnston (MUNICH, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN).
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]