Movie review: ‘Knight and Day’


Why is everyone giving Tom Cruise such a hard time? Can’t we just forget about what happened on Oprah’s couch? Is that asking too much? Is the movie business so flush with charismatic stars who can carry a picture that it can afford to eat its young? I don’t think so.

If you doubt Cruise’s skills in the star department, “Knight and Day” should make you a believer. It’s hardly a perfect film, not even close, but it is the most entertaining made-for-adults studio movie of the summer, and one of the reasons it works at all is the great skill and commitment Cruise brings to the starring role.

A genial romantic thriller that very much wants to be in the mold of such Alfred Hitchcock entertainments as “North by Northwest” and “To Catch a Thief,” or even Stanley Donen’s “Charade,” “Knight and Day” is inevitably light on plausibility but, with Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano joining Cruise, it is strong in the acting department.

“Knight and Day” is also fortunate to have James Mangold in charge. As he demonstrated in “Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma,” Mangold is one of the few current directors who has an instinct for reasonably intelligent popular entertainment. His films don’t end up on 10-best lists, but you walk out of them feeling you’ve gotten what you paid for, and that is an increasingly rare commodity.

As those credits indicate, Mangold also works well with actors, and he and Cruise completely understand the old-fashioned movie star charm necessary to animate top-drawer secret agent Roy Miller, someone who does everything better when he’s wearing sunglasses. Even the film’s first shot, with everyone out of focus but Miller, underlines his position as “Knight and Day’s” indispensable man.

Patrick O’Neill’s energetic script involves a classic movie MacGuffin, Hitchcock’s famous name for the ultimately irrelevant plot element everyone on screen is after. Here it’s the Zephyr, a tiny battery created by wacky Gyro Gearloose-type inventor Simon Feck (Dano) that is apparently “the first perpetual energy source since the sun.”

What “Knight and Day” is really about, however, is Miller’s burgeoning relationship with June Havens (Diaz), beautiful but a bit scattered when our hero glimpses her in a Wichita, Kan., airport.

Miller first views this blond in cowboy boots who restores old cars simply as a civilian he can use in his ongoing battles with the hordes who are after him. But before you can say “Boston! Salzburg! Seville!” the secret agent takes on 12 armed opponents in an elaborately choreographed battle on a 727 and the two of them are flying all over the world trying to escape not one but two sets of adversaries.

Most pressing is the CIA, Miller’s old outfit, whose ranks are under the impression that our man has gone rogue. The excellent Peter Sarsgaard makes for a wonderfully oily villain, reminiscent of the irreplaceable James Mason, and Viola Davis adds welcome dramatic heft as the CIA’s director of counterespionage.

Also in on the hunt is the foreign arms dealer no self-respecting thriller can afford to be without. In this case, he’s the dread Spaniard Antonio Quintana (Jordi Mollà), a man with access to an unlimited supply of ruthless assassins.

Diaz supplies her own kind of charisma as the innocent floundering in waters way over her head. She’s a good counterweight to Cruise (both apparently did a lot of their own stunts) even though the script does have her panicking a lot and screaming things like, “Please stop shooting people.”

“Knight and Day” also features a ton of action, including a wild car and motorcycle chase through Seville’s winding streets. Though it can seem at times as if the film is throwing too much at us too often (Hitchcock is dead and he’s not coming back), it is, fittingly, Cruise who inevitably comes to the rescue.

For Roy Miller is not only a peerless action machine; he is also an unflappable and unfailingly polite gentleman, always ready with a comforting remark or a compliment no matter how chaotic the situation. Cruise’s charming facility with Miller’s deadpan spy-side manner is this film’s secret weapon, and yet another reason why we should put Oprah’s couch in storage once and for all.