Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Christopher Quarrie, Nathan Alexander
Runtime: 121 mins
DVD Release: May 19, 2009
Not all Germans are bad people. That’s a popular theme in Valkyrie, last year’s Tom Cruise thriller closely following the 1944 plot to overthrow twentieth century supervillain Adolf Hitler. Although it’s a bit hard to believe Hollywood’s “Top Gun” poster boy as a fiercely brave one-eyed German colonel, the film is faithful to the original and rather remarkable story. Action fans will probably be disappointed by a movie that, despite its time period, boasts few Panzer explosions, but it’s a worthwhile rental nonetheless this D-Day weekend.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2676&w=m[/img]The film begins in 1943, a troubling time for the good ‘ol Third Reich. Hitler’s Europe, which at one time stretched from the western shores of Calais to Algeria in the south and deep into Russia in the east, was beginning to crack. The Germans had failed to cripple the will of the British people during the Battle of Britain in 1941. The next year, the Allies in North Africa halted the Germans’ advance at El Alamein, not once, but twice. Finally, and most devastatingly, the German advance into Russia, which had shown so much promise when first launched in 1941, had stalled completely. The Russians now held the upper hand, and were inflicting thousands upon thousands of casualties as they pushed the hated Wehrmact back towards Deutschland.
As the Third Reich began to fall apart, few could ignore the Fuhrer’s fumbles. Hitler, who held supreme power of his armed forces despite marginal experience as a commander, now made unforgiving demands of his generals, insisting that they ask permission for even strategic retreats. Such policies made the campaign in Russia a bitter and brutal one for the German Army, whose talented leaders began to feel, quite ironically, as if they’d been “stabbed in the back.”
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2677&w=m[/img]And so there arose a number of plots to remove the Fuhrer from power. Although there were dozens of attempts to do so by lethal force, Valkyrie focuses upon the more elaborate coup attempt of Claus von Stauffenberg, a highly-reputable colonel who in 1943 was scarred for life when a British spitfire strafed his jeep, leaving him minus one eye, one hand, and with just three fingers attached to his remaining palm. Doctors were amazed at his speedy recovery and the way he managed to resume a fairly normal existence despite his incredible handicap. Stauffenberg was certainly a determined man; one gets the impression he realized that Germany’s war was not going to improve with him laying helpless in a Tunisian hospital bed.
The plot, called Valkyrie, goes something like this: Stauffenberg and his group of co-conspirators, including a number of high-ranking political and military officials tired of the bumbling and arrogant Nazi party, would plant a briefcase-bound bomb in the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s main headquarters on the eastern front. Stauffenberg would place the device near Hitler’s feet during a briefing with other members of his inner circle (including, they hoped, “Final Solution” mastermind Heinrich Himmler). After the expected explosion, an inside man would cut all communications between Berlin and the Wolf’s Lair, while Stauffenberg’s colleagues put into action “Valkyrie,” which called for the immediate replacement of Hitler upon his death. The militia would be put on alert and subsequently commanded to seize critical government locations while arresting members of Hitler’s inner circle and the SS, including Goering, Goebbels, and Speer. Interestingly, Valkyrie was official policy signed by Hitler himself. The Fuhrer, it seems, was not a fan of the fine print.
This is a fantastic premise for a film and for the most part Valkyrie, unlike Stauffenberg’s plan, does not totally disappoint. However, I couldn’t help but wish that someone else, preferably the people responsible for 2004’s excellent Der Untergang, or “Downfall,” would have beaten Hollywood to the script. Cruise isn’t much of a Nazi, which is to his credit, but not the film’s. It’s virtually impossible to buy America’s favourite sofa-jumping scientologist in the role of a deeply scarred, hardened veteran intent on wrestling back the respect of the German people from an intensely troubled dictator. Like several other stars involved in this project (including blowhard Tom Wilkinson as General Friedrich Fromm), Cruise doesn’t even bother with the obligatory British accent for films of this kind. As a result, this movie feels like a mish-mash of different styles and personalities, rather out of step for a society where uniformity was a crucial part of not only the lifestyle, but survival. I just didn’t buy the acting in this film and that hurts the atmosphere; this feels too much like a brainless summer blockbuster, rather than a sneak peek into the sinister (and yet obnoxiously fascinating) Third Reich. Several other actors found right here probably could have done a better job than Cruise, including Kenneth Branagh, or better yet, Thomas Kretchmann, who really deserves a prominent leading role sooner or later.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2679&w=m[/img]Still, Cruise brings some star power to a film with noble intentions. Although I’ve studied my fair share of Second World War art and literature, I certainly never appreciated the depth of this particular plot or the commitment of many Germans to remove Hitler from power. It’s fascinating to sit for a moment and ponder what things might have been like had Stauffenberg succeeded. Would the Germans have negotiated a peace treaty? Would they have become a more effective fighting unit, prolonging the war? One thing is for sure: they would have changed the collective memory of the Second World War for Germany and for the world in the decades following its eventual conclusion.
Valkyrie is a fantastic story averagely acted out. Although the extent of the plot to remove Hitler will stun many viewers (and rightly so), with more believable lead roles this could have been a much more memorable film.