Eric D. Snider

Valkyrie

Movie Review

Valkyrie

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C+

Released: December 25, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

Tom Cruise, his reputation defamed, his career desperately in need of a makeover, has chosen as his comeback vehicle a film in which he plays a Nazi officer who tries to kill Hitler. C'mon, Tom, you're not making this easy on us. Couldn't you have gone with a story that would allow your character to, oh, I don't know, succeed?

"Valkyrie" is the film, nimbly directed by Bryan Singer ("X-Men") and based on a true story about an elaborate, complicated, almost-successful assassination attempt that occurred in 1944. Cruise plays Nazi Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who at the film's outset has already been sent to the North African front as punishment for his outspokenness against Hitler (although he must not have been too outspoken, since he's still alive). He's one of a growing number of officers who believe that, as he puts it, "We can serve Germany or the Fuhrer, but not both." Germany is losing the war under Hitler's direction; the only hope is to remove him from power, cut their losses, and make peace with the Allies.

Once Stauffenberg's opinions become known throughout the underground, he's brought into the inner circle of coup plotters, whose numbers include a lot of high-ranking German officers -- a lot more than you'd think a cabal could have and still remain secret. Unfortunately, with their similar uniforms, their matching British accents, and their near-universal middle-aged-white-maleness, it's hard to keep track of them all in the film, but they're led by Major-Gen. von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) and Gen. Beck (Terence Stamp), now retired from duty but still keenly interested in the future of Germany. Gen. Olbricht (Bill Nighy) is onboard but overly cautious; Gen. Fellgibel (Eddie Izzard) is a communications officer whose cooperation will be vital; and Gen. Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) -- by far the most interesting of the lot -- manages to endorse the plot without doing so openly, thus remaining sufficiently two-faced to save his own neck.

More participants are involved than I have named, played by less famous actors and given less screen time; the film, feeling obligated to remain true to life, introduces more characters than it knows what to do with. It even presents von Stauffenberg's wife, Nina (Carice van Houten), only to whisk her away again before she has a chance to add anything to the story.

This shadowy group's plan involves planting a bomb in Hitler's bunker, killing him, then quickly gaining control of the government by misapplying a back-up plan called Valkyrie, which Hitler designed to be employed in the event of civil unrest following a catastrophic Allied attack. It's actually a rather brilliant scheme to use the government's own strength against itself -- and it would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!

Written by frequent Singer collaborator Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") and Nathan Alexander, "Valkyrie" is gutsy for telling a story that we know won't end well, and admirable for telling it in a way that's occasionally suspenseful. Like all good espionage dramas, it's full of furtive glances, knowing looks, and hiss-whispered conversations, and that's moderately enjoyable as far as it goes.

What it's lacking is a human element. The still-charismatic Cruise and the others give adequate performances, but there's just too much plot, and too many characters to contend with, for it to hit home with us. Furthermore, it rarely rises to the level of entertainment you expect from a wartime thriller -- there's something rote and foregone about the whole affair. The only real thrill is in discovering how, exactly, the assassination attempt will fail, and what terrible consequences it will lead to for the perpetrators. The destination doesn't need to be happy, but the film ought to make the journey more lively than this.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, some violence

2 hrs.

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This item has 5 comments

  1. Dominic says:

    Valkyrie was a dull, noneffective film with no or very little character developement. By the end of the movie I could not have cared less what happened to the individuals involved in the failed attempt because we did not know anything about any of them. Once you found out that it was about the plot to kill Hitler, you lost interest because you know it failed if you know anything about history; and they did not present anything that made you want to find out what happened until near the end of the film. If they had given you some insight into the characters it could have been interesting, but none was given. I fell asleep numerous times during the first hour & 30 minutes because it was so dull. I give this a 1 out of 5 rating and that's being generous.

  2. Güero says:

    It was hard to cheer for Tom and his group. I know they were trying to kill Hitler (a good thing), but they were still Nazis and of course everybody knew that they would lose. Furthermore, the picture didn't show how Hitler survived the explosion. It might have been interesting (even fun) to see how mad he became. Pretty unforgetable.

  3. Bella says:

    Actually, I loved this movie. I nearly cried at the end. I thought it was beautifully done. I agree that there were a couple of characters that you sort of forgot about, but I thought that everyone was incredible. And as for Nina's limited presence, I think her whole point was just to solidify the idea that Tom was a family man, and that his whole family was on the line. I think that they should have showed how Hitler survived the explosion, definitely, because for a minute I thought it had actually worked. :D

    But the movie was excellent, and I think it deserves a lot more credit that you're giving it. It's not the kind of film I'd normally see, but it kept me enthralled throughout.

  4. Charles K. says:

    This movie is definetely something different from what the american audiences is acustomed to see all the time.. chick flicks, terminator-rocky films and all those williesque ¨i always win¨ type of films at least it will teach something to the common people besides knowing how to spell Mcdonalds if any...

  5. Julia says:

    The movie was quite good. Tom Cruise is an excellent actor and the movie shows a bit how difficult it was to kill Hitler.

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