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Accents: To fake it or not

Of all the criticism that Tom Cruise has received for playing a Germansoldier in his latest thriller Valkyrie, the one that stands out is forhis lack of a Bavarian accent. 

Of all the criticism that Tom Cruise has received for playing a German soldier in his latest thriller Valkyrie, the one that stands out is for his lack of a Bavarian accent.

“It seems to be the point of contention that will not die and frankly if that’s the problem (critics) have, I’m happy,” stated screenwriter and co-producer Christopher McQuarrie in a recent interview.

“I’d much rather have them attack me than the people in the story.”

But that’s precisely the point that’s unclear — do fake accents detract audiences from the story? While critics have blasted Valkyrie and its use of American, English and German actors speaking in their own dialect as distracting, McQuarrie argues the opposite.

“Everybody walking around speaking these German accents, it starts to feel a little bit like a Mel Brooks comedy,” said McQuarrie. “We just said, ‘It seems to me that this is a human story as much as it is a German story and can we just dispense with the absurdity?’”

Many filmmakers would debate that argument. Director Edward Zwick, who later this month will be releasing Defiance starring Daniel Craig (better known as James Bond), is one. For his drama about a group of war-time Russian resistance fighters, the accent was absolutely necessary.

“We had a cast made of Americans, Australians, English, Lithuanians, Russians and for everyone to speak with a different accent would’ve been entirely weird to me,” Zwick said.

The Blood Diamond director also insists that adopting the native accent in which a film is set isn’t just for the benefit of authenticity either.

“I think it might’ve helped Daniel disappear into the part — some people’s perceptions of James Bond and a lot of that (needs to) happen very quickly.”

Still, getting it right is imperative. Actors who mangle dialects are vilified by critics (I’m looking at you, Keanu Reeves). No matter how slick a flick is otherwise, a movie lives and dies by its character’s believability.

It causes one to consider: To fake an accent or not to fake an accent, that’s the question. For the makers of Valkyrie, the answer comes without regret.

“I’m quite certain that the half of the audience that doesn’t have a problem with it would be mocking us now for the outrageous German accents,” said McQuarrie, before quickly adding. “I’ll take the half that I agree with.”

 
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