In a 12.27 interview with CulturePulp’s Mike Russell, Valkyrie screenwriter Chris McQuarrie tries to pooh-pooh the matter of the film’s inconsistent, all-over-the-map accents. McQuarrie reports that he, director Bryan Singer and star-producer Tom Cruise “talked about it” and decided against having the characters speak German-accented English because it would sound distracting.
(l. to r.) Valkyrie director Bryan Singer, screenwriter Chris McQuarrie, star-producer Tom Cruise.
The solution, says McQuarrie, was everyone saying “why can’t we all just be human beings in this movie and not worry about that?” And have everyone speak English in different accents? Cruise using his American-hardball inflections, the British actors speaking like Oxford University Nazis, and the German actors applying their Teutonic strudel sauce? I don’t think so, Chris!
All the Valkyrie boys needed to do was decide on a uniform accent system and stick to it — simple. Even the much-ridiculed Marlon Brando/Young Lions/German-accent English route would have been okay if everyone had simply done this and stuck to it. As Russell points out, there’s no pure approach if you’re shooting an English-language version of a story about native Germans. You’re obviously cheating from the get-go. The important thing is to have everyone cheat in the same way.
I listed some examples in a Valykrie riff that I ran on 12.16. In Vicente Amorim‘s Good , set in Germany of the 1930s and early ’40s, everyone speaks in educated British accents — and it works fine. In Edward Dmytryk‘s The Young Lions (1958), the German characters all speak English in German accents — and it’s more or less okay. In Spartacus, all the elite Romans (except for John Gavin‘s Julius Ceasar) speak with British accents, and all the slave warriors speak Americanese. In Oliver Stone‘s Alexander, the Macedonian soldiers speak with Irish accents — and it pretty much works.
But the catch-as-catch-can accents in Valkyrie are hugely distracting. And I’m not the only one who’s said this. “Most of the crucial rebellious officers are played by British actors, while some of the Nazi diehards are played by Germans, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if this cacophony of accents weren’t so distracting,” wrote N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis. “Distracting” again!
Earlier in the interview McQuarrie and Russell talk about all the journalist-columnist-internet chatter about Valkyrie that happened through some of ’07 and all through ’08. And McQuarrie says, “What’s interesting is that you’re one of maybe four people who ever asked me [about the release-date changes]…no one called to get a quote from us.”
Well, I tried to reach Singer (we know each other and he trusts me as far as it goes) about a Valkyrie matter, but the numbers and e-mail addresses I had didn’t work, and I knew I wouldn’t get this info from the turf-conscious marketing people at MGM so I let it go. I know a journalist who’s friendly with McQuarrie and has his info, but when I tried to reach McQuarrie back in the Alexander days I was more or less told that he couldn’t be bothered to reply.
This plus a couple of other experiences have persuaded me that McQuarrie is a guy who thinks he’s awfully hot shit and that he’s living on too elevated a plane to talk with journalists except when promoting a movie. Many filmmakers have a more open or trusting attitude, some are like McQuarrie and some are even less approachable.