Review ‘Valkyrie’

January 1, 2009 at 6:27 pm Leave a comment

As a fan of World War II history, I was both excited and worried when United Artists announced it was producing Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie.  It’s one of the more lesser-known stories of WWII, and also one of the most thrilling.  A few years ago, I was psyched to hear that MGM was releasing Windtalkers, a movie about another little-known story from the War: the tale of Navajo Indians serving as Marines in the Pacific Theatre.  While I did enjoy the movie, it didn’t live up to my expectations.  So, with Valkyrie, I decided to keep my hopes low and try to enjoy the movie for what it was billed to be: a thriller.

After having seen it, I can safely say that Bryan Singer and Co. exceeded my expectations.

Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first: Tom Cruise.  Yes, he’s one of the most recognizable stars in the world, and yes, he’s definitely on the weird side when it comes to his personal life.  But, there’s no denying his ability as an actor.  To be honest, despite his superstar status, he’s surpassed by other actors that have been in the Biz for less time (Will Smith, in my opinion, is a better actor).  However, given the role he needs to play, he does his job well.  In Valkyrie, Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a deeply patriotic soldier who’s convinced that the worst thing to happen to Germany is the Furher himself, Adolf Hitler.

Stauffenberg is recruited into this secret club comprised of members that share the same ideology.  Their goal is simple: remove Hitler from power and do what they can to salvage what’s left of Germany.  Executing this plan becomes nearly impossible when they realize that ‘removing’ Hitler will have to mean killing him without being caught.

Cruise is fine in this role.  While this isn’t one of his best roles, Cruise plays it with an intensity required for a character that is deeply devoted to a single cause.  In some respects, he’s like his character from Collateral, Vincent.  Both men have a goal and there is nothing  that can distract them from it.  Unfortunately, this leads to a slightly stiff performance that isn’t as nuanced as it could’ve been.  That being said, the scenes that requires Cruise to be intense heighten the tension; but the scenes where he’s being intense without needing to be just makes those scenes seem very ‘B-movie’.

The rest of the cast is very good, with great performances from Bill Nighy as the indecisive general Friederich Olbricht, and Jamie Parker who plays Lt. Werner von Haeften, Stauffenberg’s assistant.  Rounding out the cast is Eddie Izzard as Gen. Erich Fellgiebel, Christian Berkel as Col. von Quirnheim, Kenneth Branagh as Maj. Gen. von Treskow, and (one of my favorite actors) Tom Wilkinson as Gen. Friederich Fromm.

One of the issues I had going into the theatre was that, since it’s based on a true story, what could this film show me that I don’t already know?  It’s common knowledge that Hitler committed suicide, so the July 20 plot obviously didn’t work.  I also saw a documentary about the attempted assassination previously, so how can a Hollywood version be that much different from a documentary that doesn’t need to dramatize the events?  Turns out, the film can show you plenty.

While discussing this movie with someone, I compared this to Paul Greengrass’s United 93, one of the best movies of 2006.  What I liked about that movie is that it makes you sympathetic to the characters, so that when it’s time for them to act, you want them to succeed, even though you know that in the end they don’t.  In Valkyrie, Singer shows us just how close the conspirators came to removing Adolf Hitler from power.  The last half of this film moves along at a very quick pace,  in slight contrast to the first hour which moves slower so you can get familiar with the key players.  There’s this excellently edited sequence during the end of the second act that shows Operation Valkyrie succeeding, which makes its ultimate defeat all the more heartbreaking.

Valkyrie should rank among some of the best WWII thrillers ever produced.  While the first act plods along, the second and third more than make up for it.  Ignore all the negative press that surrounds Tom Cruise; don’t go see this because of him, go see this because of the story.  This film is about patriots doing what they could to save their country.  When the Declaration of Independence was being signed, each signer knew that this piece of paper meant a death sentence if their plans failed.  In the July 20 Plot, each member of the conspiracy knew that failure meant not just death for themselves, but possible death for their family.  Valkyrie is a tribute to that courage and heroism that helped save Germany and bring down a tyrant.

8/10

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Entry filed under: movies.

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