director Bryan Singer and star Tom Cruise have described Valkyrie as
an adventure thriller. Maybe that's what they had in mind — which is
understandable since Cruise has established himself as an actor who can
drive such films — but they should have pushed the notion aside. Maybe
Singer can't help but make a film full of elaborately uniformed heroes and
villains; after all he effectively launched the X-Men franchise and
re-imagined Superman (albeit in the none-too-successful Superman
reasonable diligence and relative accuracy, Valkyrie tells the
complex story of Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg,
who attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler and with his band of
co-conspirators take over the crumbling Third Reich before the Allies force
an unconditional surrender on his homeland. Stauffenberg was an aristocrat,
an active soldier, and an unrepentant nationalist who believed in the
greater glory of the German people.
Catholic, he was appalled by the Nazis' brutality and lack of honor. With
other aristocrats and conservative Catholics (played by Branagh, Nighy,
Stamp, Parker, and Izzard among others), he joined a resistance movement
that plotted to kill Hitler and remove the fanatic Nazis from power while
still believing in a German victory. By July 20, 1944, the day of this final
attempt against Hitler, a surrender to the Allies was still possible that
would have allowed Teutonic dignity to remain intact.
film unfolds, the conspirators become increasingly desperate, since earlier
attempts to kill Hitler failed and the war has taken a decidedly dismal
turn. Stauffenberg, who had been terribly wounded by an Allied attack in
North Africa (he lost an eye, a hand and most of the fingers on his other
hand), is sent to a Munich hospital to recover. The conspirators engage
Stauffenberg to join them, and he goes from discouraged conspirator (he has
little faith in the civilian plotters) to key organizer who must both kill
Hitler and initiate the coup that gets the regular Army to suppress the Nazi
cadres of the SS and Gestapo ("Operation Valkyrie"). Fortunately, he has
risen in rank to Colonel, has been transferred to Berlin and becomes part of
the general staff that gives him access to Hitler.
tale becomes richly compelling as the audience gets to know who the players
are. As we learn about the various plotters' motives, we see the attempt
unfold and ultimately fail. Though Singer accelerates its thriller pace,
Valkyrie reveals a lot about the striations and counter forces in German
society that led to the Nazis' takeover and their iron-fisted control of the
country. As the historical facts of the July 20th coup emerge, we see the
complex dynamics behind the scenes that suggests that the German Third Reich
was far from a coherent juggernaut, but a careening mess of madness and
compliance. Unfortunately Valkyrie breezes along without enough
moments of digression to illuminate the various factions involved and the
failures of character that caused this plot to fail.
an excellent crew of international actors — such as Brits Nighy, Wilkinson,
Euro-actors Kretschmann, and van Houten — round out the cast, they play
their parts in disconcerting English accents. Nonetheless, the supporting
characters provide a rich foundation to nurture Cruise's Stauffenberg as
de-facto coup leader.
though Cruise dominates throughout, Singer assembles the film from a
kaleidoscopic bunch of set pieces that speed up into the failed coup and the
conspirators' executions. While the diminutive Cruise gives Stauffenberg a
large presence, he performs the character with greater restraint and poise
than he has shown in the past. Though his very Americanness sometimes gets
hard to overlook, Cruise manages a fine performance.
recently watched a much younger Cruise in Jerry Maguire one could see
the making of the superstar. With an abundant energy and passion, Cruise
imprinted on his character both an edge and vulnerability, like a loving kid
with attention deficit disorder. But the Cruise of Valkyrie is all
about control, and though his mania seethes underneath the surface, he
effectively manages it as Stauffenberg makes his bid to determine Germany's
script tries to seed the film with the rich historical, cultural and
political realities of the time among a field of ever-intensifying action.
But while Singer nearly overwhelms with the powerful imagery of Nazi culture
— the elaborate military uniforms, endless Swaistka-laden flags and banners
or imposing architecture — he sacrifices background for the drama,
occasionally diminishing the importance of the story.
only begin to appreciate Valkyrie by getting past preconceptions of
Tom Cruise in an eyepatch and Nazi regalia or the baggage of his Oprah
appearances. And if you can get past the polyglot of accented English or the
scuttlebutt about the film finding an appropriate release date, then
Valkyrie is both suspenseful and enlightening. It goes far beyond the
cliché that pits "heroic/good Nazis" against the "bad" fanatics who
supported Hitler, but rather reveals the intricate and daunting dynamics the
led to the rise and fall of the Third Reich.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 31, 2008.