STARRING Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Brangah, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, David Bamber
WRITTEN BY Christoper McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
DIRECTED BY Bryan Singer
PG-13, 120 mins.
** (out of ****)
Everywhere I turn, VALYRIE is mentioned in the same sentence as “Tom Cruise”, “couch jumping”, and that wonderfully annoying woman “Oprah.” This is unfortunate. The movie should not be judged on Cruise alone, nor should psychologists and industry insiders ponder, “Is Cruise back from that whole being crazy trip?” But for me, the only thing I was thinking about was, “I hope this is enjoyable and I hope I’m not as bored as I was with Singer’s last directorial outing [which was SUPERMAN RETURNS, for those who forgot – yep, bet you just remembered the movie, didn’t yah? It’s alright; it’s an entirely forgettable flick]”. Turns out, VALYRIEwas pretty entertaining, but not nearly as good as I was expecting it to be. I mean, this is Oscar season, and flicks released around this time of year tend to be critiqued a little bit harder then, say, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (2007).
Aside from Cruise, major complaint #2 for VALKYRIE is a "lack of suspense", because, for those who know even the littlest inkling of history, know that Operation Valkyrie was unsuccessful. I'm happy to report that complaint is unfounded. Somehow, Singer was able to create an insane amount of suspense/tension throughout the flick (especially scenes with Stauffenberg and Hitler in close proximity). Hell, while Stauffenberg was carrying out the mission, my heart was beating rapidly, anxiously thinking, "What's going to happen? What's going to happen?" So, good job in that regard, Mr. Singer! (and for those who think I need a history lesson, you're most likely right on target; besides, most of my knowledge of World War II is Manhattan Project related) Although, honestly, I would love to see Edward Zwick's (THE LAST SAMURAI) version of this movie - it probably would be bloody brilliant whilst emotionally moving.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) joins a group of high-ranking German officials in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler (Bamber). Codenamed "Valkyrie" after a emegency plan created to use military reinforcements in case of a revolt against the Nazi government. The group intend to use this plan - with some modifications - to control the military reinforcements after Hitler's demise and create a new government and attempt to make peace with the Allies before Germany falls. After one failed attempt, they initiate Operation Valkyrie July 1944, but events don't quite go as planned.
So, with an all-star cast, solid pacing and genuine suspense, why not with the love for VALKYRIE? Well, my main problem is something I know others applaud: lack of character development. I'm quite aware that this film is specifically about these 1944 events, but I wouldn't have minded the film to be more character based then, say, checking off boxes from a 'event' list.
One idea I'd like to mention was Singer's choice to use German in the first minute, and as Stauffenberg speaks, the German transforms into English. It's a subtle, but very cool way of cue the audience they're speaking German and not perfect English (c'mon, you know there's going to be someone complaining that Germans are speaking English).
There's not much to say about VALKYRIE. It's a well made movie with a great cast. My only grievance is that I would like more time devoted to the characters and who they are and why they're fighting this fight. It could not only be a great thriller, but a good character study. Overall, there's nothing to turn one away from it, nor is there anything that makes it a "must-see." WWII enthusiasts will enjoy it, as will your everday audiences. But honestly, spend your time wisely - go see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE instead (which I'd call my second favorite film of 2008).