Valkyrie (2008)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Political Thriller, Thriller, War
Bryan Singer Bryan Singer
Tom Cruise Tom Cruise
Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh
Bill Nighy Bill Nighy
Tom Wilkinson Tom Wilkinson
Carice van Houten Carice van Houten

7.1 / 10 - Overall Rating

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In Nazi Germany during World War II, as the tide turned in favor of the Allies, a cadre of senior German officers and politicians desperately plot to topple the Nazi regime before the nation is crushed in a nearly inevitable defeat. To this end, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an Army officer convinced he must save Germany from Adolf Hitler, is recruited to mastermind a real plan. To do so, he arranges for the internal emergency measure, Operation: Valkyrie, to be changed to enable his fellows to seize control of Berlin after the assassination of Der Fuhrer. However, even as the plan is put into action, a combination of bad luck and human failings conspire on their own to create a tragedy that would prolong the greater one gripping Europe. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 29, 2008
There is something fascinating about the Holocaust. Cinema has always used the tragedy of this unimaginable event to create some of its most prolific benchmarks. In 2008, we have already been given several films dealing with that particular subject matter, from the recent "The Reader" to the emotional "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". That said, the film "Valkyrie" doesn't necessarily revolve around the Holocaust, but a plot to kill the man most responsible for it, Adolf Hitler. Had Hitler been stopped even halfway through his genocidal rampage, who knows how many lives could have been saved? In most films dealing with the Holocaust and Hitler's Germany, we are only given your traditional Nazis and Nazi loyalists, with very few dissenters. "Valkyrie" is all about dissenters - and German dissenters as that; a group of men who love their country so much that they are willing to risk their lives to see it returned to its former glory. The film comes to us from Bryan Singer, whose last film "Superman Returns" was a colossal piece of comic book garbage. Singer, however, has made some exceptional films and does have a way with a story. Love him or hate him, you have to respect his ability to move the plot along in whatever way it so chooses to do so. "Valkyrie" is easily one of his better films - his best since "Apt Pupil" and a top-notch thriller.

Very few people know this story which is probably what makes it so captivating. Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German soldier who is injured on the front lines, having been sent there in the first place due to his concerns over Hitler and his elimination of the Jewish population. Colonel Stauffenberg is recruited by a group of German loyalists who want to assassinate Hitler and end war with the Allies. This group is comprised of businessmen, heads of state and noted politicians and military. Kenneth Branagh co-stars as Major Tresckow, Terence Stamp as General Beck and Bill Nighy as General Olbricht - the three men leading the military side of the operation. The goal is simple enough - assassinate Hitler and move the country to Operation Valkyrie, which would place control of the government into anti-Nazi hands and see the SS and Nazi chain of command decimated. After much preparation and covert happenings, the plan is carried out, the consequences of which control the last chunk of the film. "Valkyrie" is haunting in that it shows us just how close these men came to changing the course of history as we know it. We all know our world history so we know Hitler's assassination attempt failed, but the events surrounding it are truly remarkable.

On the positive side of things, the film is a real technical achievement. Director Bryan Singer has crafted an intricate thriller with all the trimmings. The art direction and production design are top notch and the cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel is aimed and spot-on. It felt like we were seeing one of the most realistic visual portraits of Hitler's Germany ever captured. The pacing of the film was tight and well-etched out, carrying never a dull moment and keeping us centered on the storyline, which was the real star of the entire picture. Tom Wilkinson turns in a fantastic performance as General Fromm, an on-again/off-again ally to the cause who eventually saves his own skin. He doesn't get a lot of screen time, but he is so powerful when he's there. Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh also provided excellent support in two very key roles, as do Terence Sramp and a very solid Eddie Izzard. The one performance I want to really single out comes from David Bamber as Adolf Hitler. The man is flawless. He has this cadence to his performance - to his speech and his walk - that just add a whole new dimension of power to the role. You really feel his presence when he's on screen. I was wondering how much of Hitler would make it into the film since very few films on this subject matter feature Hitler predominantly - but he made it on screen just enough to leave a lasting impression. It was one of the best embodiments of Hitler I have seen.

On the negative side of things, we have Tom Cruise. He seems so out of place here. We learn during the opening narration that Cruise can effectively pull off the German dialect, so it boggles my mind that Singer decided to go with neutral accents. With the exception of Thomas Kretschmann, all principles speak with neutral accents. It is most noticeable with Cruise, who doesn't even attempt anything other than his American tone. This does not work. Cruise also doesn't seem to play any level other than determined here. We see no emotional development in the character, no concern for the safety of himself or others and no real exploration of what made that character tick. And, since he's the one we are supposed to be rooting for, we need something tangible. I don't think Cruise single-handedly ruined the film because I am recommending it, but he definitely turned what could have been a great film into an all right film. Imagine someone like Sean Penn in this role or someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman - just a little acting would have gone a long way. I am normally a Tom Cruise supporter and think he's underrated as an actor, but he brings absolutely nothing to the table here, other than name power. It was akin to watching a wind-up doll in the role, going through the motions.

But what you want to know is - should I spend my hard earned money on "Valkyrie", the latest in a long line of films on Nazi Germany? The answer is yes. This storyline is one you've likely never heard before and that storyline is carried out effectively in the film. We do get a sense of just how big this missed opportunity was and we can feel the effects of that on the characters in the picture. I wish this would have been treated with kid gloves as an independent project, maybe given a low profile lead actor and ushered out with the same kind of excitement as another awards season indie contender. Tom Cruise might just be too big for this role. It just bewilders me that Singer would choose to go with the neutral accents when he has a cast full of individuals who could easily pull that accent off. If you have the talent, use it. Don't dumb it down for us art-less American audiences. We can handle a lot more than that. "Valkyrie" is an engaging thriller with a polished productions and a fantastic actor as Adolf Hitler. It's definitely a must-see for the thriller fans out there and a sturdy recommendation to everyone else. Tom Cruise is the one downside but the story is strong enough to cover his short comings. Had the events in this film succeeded, who knows if I'd even be writing this right now?

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