Valkyrie looks like a standard-issue Tom Cruise movie with the usual explosions, intrigue and wild action. The missing key element is his megawatt smile. His Col. Claus von Stauffenberg is so stern-faced he makes the expression-challenged Buster Keaton seem riotously animated by comparison.

If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, then Cruise has the smile that sold a million movie tickets. Wide and toothy, it stretches the full breadth of his face as a physical manifestation of his movie-star charisma.

The smile debuted in a Risky Business scene where he recruits clients for his new business. There it was a charming, non-aggressive symbol of his self-assuredness. The ’80s saw the lopsided grin become a pop-culture icon. It shone from the cockpit of his Top Gun F-14 and reflected off the Stoli bottles in Cocktail. In each of these films the smile is 90 per cent of the performance.

The villain characters of The Last Samurai and Collateral show the smile’s emotional range. The smile is still there, but now it’s menacing. For example, Vincent, the hit man in Collateral, uses an ominously icy smile when he’s about to hurt people.

In one form or another, the smile has been front and centre in all of Cruise’s hits. Without it, Valkyrie just doesn’t feel like a real Cruise blockbuster.

– Richard Crouse is the author of Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen and film critic for CTV's Canada AM.

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