Reviews

Valkyrie

2

The first big upset of 2009 is here...

From German-language authenticity (with US twang) to full English mid-sentence, Valkyrie’s uncertainty tumbles from the screen in its first scene.

It tells of the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf and frame the SS for the crime. Cruise and his cohorts were soldiers before the Nazis, but with Allies Berlin-bound, they only forecast doom for their beloved fatherland.

They are now the German Resistance, secretly fighting the world’s most ruthless dictator… Sounds thrilling, right?

But as anyone with a fingertip grasp of facts knows, the eponymous Operation failed. As such the script has to zing off the screen to create any tension, but despite the combined talents of The Usual Suspects’ Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, not to mention an array of Brit thesp talent, the story hiccups on history.

Predetermined outcomes don’t have to suffocate suspense – Thirteen Days had a killer script, Titanic invented a swoony romance, The Queen had Helen Mirren – but despite the inherent danger of a totalitarian state, Valkyrie never fizzles, all too often feeling like a dreary, talky procedural.

Not that there aren’t positives. The set design is exemplary (who’s got hold of all those Nazi uniforms now, eh?), exec producer/star Cruise is pumped and engaging throughout, while there’s no doubting the acting chops of Tom Wilkinson and Eddie Izzard – the latter stealing the show in a wholly straight role.

But overall? A botched op. Art imitating life. “There has to be a chance of success!” bellows Cruise to his fellow Hitler-hating Germans as they plot a plan they really should have actioned at least five years previously.

But in a work long in gestation, short on setpieces and thrills, Singer’s sixth film is as successful in entertaining its audience as Stauffenberg and co were at offing the Führer.

Jonathan Dean

Verdict:

There’s a whiff of pointlessness hanging over this whole affair. The fact that Valkyrie is not the thriller the trailer promises is treason against the talent.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • Oyomesi

      Jan 21st 2009, 8:17

      3

      FILM REVIEW: VALKYRIE (MGM/UNITED ARTISTS) By Adeyinka Makinde There is of course much to be said about Hollywood’s typically ruthless view of history. From the monumental epics created by DeMille and Bronstein to the putatively ‘true-to-life’ depictions administered to the stories of the likes of the boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, film making; when it strays into the realm of historical and biographical material, is apt at creating controversies which raise the typical allegations of simplification, distortion, and even outright fraud. But part of the art of the consummate movie maker involves taking -to use the overused euphemism- ‘dramatic license’. For many reasons which are valid such as that relating to the inherent limitations of cinema time, story lines often require tinkering and tailoring in order to aid the development of the plot and the cohesion of characters. Characters may have to be fused, experiences swapped or events brought back or forwards in time as happened variously in acclaimed adaptations of the lives of the boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and Joseph Pistone, the mafia infiltrating undercover FBI agent, in Donnie Brasco. In Raging Bull, the character attributed to LaMotta’s brother was actually that of his cousin –Martin Scorsese feeling that a sibling form of kinship would play out better- and in the denouement of Brasco, the final scene implies that it is ‘Lefty Guns’ Rugerri, the soldato who unwittingly nurtured Brasco, who is killed for having let an informer into the Bonanno family when in fact it was the caporegime Sonny Black Napolitano who got the bullet. The cause of achieving veracity and exactitude, while laudable is not always sound when applied to the tried and tested precepts of fashioning good cinema. So it is the case that certain films can be handsome but lacking in accuracy, while others, though sound in factual content, may induce varying states of slumber as was arguably the case with Robert Rossen’s misbegotten effort in attempting to suffuse the epic genre with intellectual pretensions in Alexander the Great. The announcement of Tom Cruise’s involvement in a project covering the events of 20th July 1944 when a group of German military officers attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler did not at first ring true to many. Surely, the rendition of an event of such historical magnitude demanded a lead actor who could be universally ascribed with the bona fide credential of being a ‘serious’ thespian; a mould into which Cruise’s recorded repertoire of acting skills does not fit. Added to that was the designation of Bryan Singer, whose resume is littered with miscellaneous involvements with adaptations of comic book characters such as X Men and Superman, as the director. The presumption was that any project dealing with this moment of rebellion must feed on and grapple with high notions of nothing less than the struggle for the soul and the destiny of a nation; of heroism in the midst of totalitarianism; of the morality of using violence to unseat a leader who although leading his nation into the abyss still somehow managed to exercise a firm grip on a populace who had shown few signs of mass disobedience and still fewer signs of an enthusiasm for a change of regime. For an uncomfortable legacy of this attempt among many Germans who lived through the war years was the perception that whether right or wrong, the July plotters had weakened the nation when it was surrounded by enemies and thus were ‘traitors’. It is by bearing these matters in mind that one appreciates the apprehension felt by serious students of history and the rationale that they would find it intolerable to have the events leading up to July 20th played out as a comic book excursion into the pyrotechnical excess that is the standard fare of Hollywood. The choice of Cruise was from the outset startling for more than a few reasons. His range as an actor is often derided. While he may have outgrown his ‘Brat Pack’ origins and won praise for his offerings in Rain Man, The Color of Money and particularly, Born on the Fourth of July; the considered opinion tends to view him as a lightweight; as one most effective in plying his trade within the narrow confines of action-adventure vehicles. Then there were the reservations as to how he would vocalize the role of Claus Graf Von Stauffenberg, the aristocrat colonel who was at the heart of the attempted putsch. It is something of an established tenet that the upper-class British accent forms the lingua franca of the high-born European heroes portrayed in Hollywood movies and that the lead actor, if he is American, approximates this ‘standard’. There were also misgivings by the family of the late count publically expressed by his son, a retired general in the Bundeswehr , who preferred for Cruise to “climb a mountain or go surfing in the Caribbean” than to play his father. This he admitted was partly due to Cruise’s spiritual affiliations. The German nation is particularly sensitive to the Church of Scientology which is largely viewed as a cult which is well versed in the rites of brainwashing its adherents in a manner many choose to analogize with the Nazi past. The question was would Cruise, a powerful figure in the movie business, use the movie as means of propagandising Scientology? Filming was made difficult by the refusal of the municipal authorities in Berlin to grant the producers permission to shoot in a number of locations including the site of the former army headquarters where the coup was dramatically played out in the aftermath of the explosion at Hitler’s forward headquarters in East Prussia. Then there were delays in the release dates rumoured to be due to a number of unsatisfactory takes which had been canned and required re-shooting. Other whispers referred to a change in marketing strategy. The results are interesting. No movie can capture all the complexities of character and the influences upon a central figure of which Colonel Stauffenberg is and this one is no different. But what it does set out right from the beginning of the movie is the plausible premise that most Generals of the Wehrmacht felt straight-jacketed by an oath of fealty they had sworn to the fuehrer and as such would not partake in a plot to eliminate Adolf Hitler. It is an arguable point that many Generals from the Prussian ‘Junker’ class, inculcated as they were with a rigid belief structure of service and obedience, would not have countenanced undertaking a treasonable act against the chief of state whether or not they had sworn an oath. Stauffenberg was not of this breed; being a member of the Swabian aristocracy from southern Germany and a catholic. There was a religious-spiritual impetus behind his resolve and, some will argue, a form of moral angst at the degeneracy of the Nazi regime which was generated by his esoteric immersions with a group associated with the German mystic Stefan George whose 1907 poem, The Anti-Christ is interpreted as a foreboding of the rise of Hitler. Indeed, while the scriptwriters choose “Long live our sacred Germany” as his final words before he was cut down in a hail of bullets, others believe him to have uttered the words ‘secret Germany’; which invoke another work by the poet. The film of course does not delve into such matters but sets out his thinking in narrative style as he writes a diary in his field tent while on active service in Tunisia. Thus, Stauffenberg’s experience of witnessing the slaughter of troops while serving in the North African theatre in 1943, and hearing of the atrocities perpetrated by the regime form the basis of an uncomplicated rationale for his future involvement in the plot. Singer ensures that the germination of the plot progresses at an agreeable pace as the time of reckoning approaches. It correctly portrays Stauffenberg as a man of immense drive and noble purpose who though joining the conspiracy at a later stage and severely debilitated by his battle injuries, becomes its undisputed leader who prods, cajoles and instructs his comrades and who is deferred to even by those of senior rank. Cruise’s performance, while not a tour de force, is at least suggestive of the spell Stauffenberg cast on those around him. Stauffenberg was reputedly the only man ever to withstand the intense glare normally administered by Adolf Hitler to those who were introduced to him for the first time at military briefings. The fuehrer, it is said, opted to avert the ‘reply’ stare from the then uninjured count. Cruise’s Stauffenberg is intelligent, passionate, resourceful and occasionally forceful. A man of ideas but also a man of action. Given that much of the surrounding cast are of British origin, his American dialect is something of an incongruity but is far from being the vulgar vernacularism his detractors had predicted. The challenge of distilling the events, as well as the underlying currents stimulating and pushing forward the plotters and those which threaten their enterprise, are arguably met by Singer who amongst many nuanced passages, successfully conveys the hesitancy of many of the rebels who are slow to put their coup in action as they remain haunted and intimidated by the possibility that the fuehrer has survived the bomb blast instigated by Colonel Stauffenberg. The arguments among the members of the resistance circle as well as the private ruminations of Stauffenberg on some particularly crucial points are addressed: what was there to gain by assassinating Hitler at a stage when Germany faced certain defeat and Hitler’s successors would inherit the allied ultimatum of ‘unconditional surrender’? What would be the cost of failure for the conspirators and their families? While Valkyrie will not enter the annals of film classics, it is a highly competent effort and whether as a student of recent German history or as a movie connoisseur, is one well worth viewing. Adeyinka Makinde is the author of the biography Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. His next book will be Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula.

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    • socheeky

      Jan 21st 2009, 11:14

      3

      Thought I'd review the film, unlike the other user one. Weird: Bryan Singer's reasonably suspenseful World War II thriller promises much with an A-List acting cast (plus Tom Cruise) and compelling 'based on truth' premise – the last and most famous internal plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1944. That the talented filmmaker delivers something less than his customary five star excellence is partly down to a pair of factors beyond his control. The first is the knowledge that Hitler's war ended via suicide in April 1945; and the second is the distraction of a cast from America and Great Britain playing English speaking Germans trying to save their beloved country from annihilation. Or in WWII terms, The Allies playing The Enemy. Obviously these are German characters being translated for the audience, a device re-iterated in the opening scene with Cruise's disenchanted Colonel von Stauffenberg narrating a letter in his mother tongue, before it dissolves into English. His unease about the war's direction is amplified moments later, when his desert convoy receives an air assault taking several of his soldiers, one of his eyes and most of his digits. Meanwhile, the 14th attempt to bump off the Fuhrer (exploding Cointreau) has failed and a ring of high ranking German officers, headed by Major-General Kenneth Branagh and General Bill Nighy, recruit Colonel Cruise to be the inside man on their latest ploy: to kill Hitler, frame the SS and use a tweaked version of the Reich's military contingency plan – the titular Valkyrie – to quickly install a new Government of their choosing. In terms of authenticity, there is no faulting the costumes, props or architecture of Hitler's Germany, nor the screenplay's desire to cover every single hiccup and hurdle of the day in question. There are a handful of gripping, old school Hitchcockian moments using close-ups of fuses, teletypes, phone calls, signatures and conspiratorial glances to whip up tension. On a pure thriller level, Singer succeeds. The storytelling and characterizations are less praiseworthy. Cruise and Co travel from A to B to C in chronological fashion, using their familiar screen personas as shorthand for a second or third dimension: Cruise equals integrity, Nighy represents uncertainty and Tom Wilkinson (best of the English cast, as usual) is no-nonsense bluster. Ken Branagh, Eddie Izzard and Terence Stamp are also decent enough in minor roles, although again, an exercise in reactive expressions, rather than fully rounded characters. It is ironic that the most interesting, engaging character is Thomas Kretschmann's Major Remer, the one man who may be able to thwart the second part of Operation Valkyrie. High production values and sprinkling of suspense aside, this doesn't compare favourably with Singer's The Usual Suspects, first two X-Mens and Superman Returns, all of which balanced great storytelling with a degree of emotional and psychological depth. Just like Valkyrie's assassination attempt itself, the end result is something of a disappointment.

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    • ELLC21

      Jan 25th 2009, 20:24

      4

      Valkyrie is a great film. Forget the negative stories you have read or heard about its delayed release or the historical inaccurancies of the attempted plot. So what if Tom Cruise is a scientoloist, he should be judged on the quality of his work not his weird religious believes. He has been the most consisent film star for the last 25 years, rarely making a bad movie or a huge box office flop. Yes there has been one or two average works,"MI 2" or "WAR OF THE WORLDS" but Valkyrie is one of his best movies for quiet a while. The film could have done with a bigger opening action sequence in North Africa to off set the large dialogue scenes which domanait the film. You know from history that the plot failed but the film is about men who are by no means angels were not fanactical Nazis and put their lives on the line for the greater good of their country abeit when they knew the war was lost. The costumes and sets are brilliantly done and you actually feel your in Berlin at that period. The film makers were right to leave out the pretend German accents as when they are not pulled off right they sound awful, it worked for Sean Connery in " THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER". The murder plot is carried out in fine detail and shows the real fear and pressure the men must have been under when carrying out their plans. The end credits should have shown pictures of the real life characters the actors were protraying, (which was done excitenally in the other Hitler movie "DOWNFALL") particularly von straffenberg who was the spearhead of the operation. Overall Valkyrie is a very good thriller and is worth much more than its average two star rating which it has been recieving.

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    • Luke1268

      Feb 2nd 2009, 13:11

      3

      I thought Valkyrie was an entertaining film although it was admittedly hampered by the issues of accent. If it was performed with a German accent then it would still be an issue as we would more concerned with Tom Cruise and his German accent rather than letting Tom Cruise do his thing, which is acting (and surprisingly he’s not bad at it!). I was surprised how well the English actors fitted into the roles of ‘Hollywood’ Nazi’s. The film displayed some visually compelling scenes and sometimes intense and thrilling moments. I particularly enjoyed how the film highlighted Hitler’s influence on decisions made, especially at the 'tipping point'-and how fear was a major factor in establishing power. I thought this film was much better than the rather pretentious, self important Slumdog Millionaire which was bound to attract lots of publicity and criticism. Valkyrie wasnt brilliant but certainly wasnt dissapointing as the film did deliver in parts.

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    • lambophil

      Feb 9th 2009, 16:32

      4

      I actually really disagree with this review. I'd give it 4/4.5 stars. I like TF, but they are not always right! I thought it was a really good film. Also, I really dont remember Stephen Fry in it... Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson were great though.

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    • MikeyRix

      Feb 17th 2009, 21:00

      3

      I think you were a little harsh here - I was surprised at how good Tom Cruise was and I don't even like him. There were moments where it was really tense and they were built up well, and I barely recognised Eddie Izzard in it. Good film. Not sure about whether I'd see it again though. Mikhaela

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    • HalliganRF

      Feb 20th 2009, 19:03

      3

      Film Review= Valkyrie Some people that went to see Valkyrie were disappointed that there was not enough action in the film, first things first Valkyrie is not a war film it is a complex drama/ thriller set in Germany during the Second World War. Tom Cruise plays General Stauffenberg a brave German soldier whom secretly tries to bring down Hitler and then frame the SS. However Stauffenberg is not alone along side him are Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy (who actually give a better performance than Cruise does). However the plot to overthrow Hitler fails and all the men are sentenced to death. Although their attempt fails there is a sense that they will succeed, your sitting on the edge of your seat hoping that they will succeed. The main draw back to the film is that Tom Cruise is in it! His dodgy American accent does not fit in well with the authenticity of the film. Also due to shabby camera work you can clearly see that Tom Cruise still has all five fingers in his one hand, his hand got blown of at the start of the film and he loses three fingers in the other. Over all verdict= an all right piece of work. The film had its moments.

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    • Phoenix81

      May 7th 2009, 13:58

      2

      Very long and pretty dull build up (Considering what was going on at the time) to a rather lack luster finale.

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    • elwood123

      May 25th 2009, 22:16

      4

      cannot believe this is only given 2 stars!! was a decent film well worth watching- the criticism that you know hitler doesn't get assassinated is ridiculous- its like saying any historical film is not worth making because you already know the outcome. I am an avid hater of Tom Cruise and even I had to admit that he was good in this, this score reflects some inconsistent scoring on this site, really disappointed by this review put this score into perspective- hannah montana even got 3 stars!!!

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    • aelmo1

      May 28th 2009, 16:10

      i've avoided reading any of the reviews for this moviwe until i'd actually had chance to watch it..............and my my total film has gone the way of empire, slagging off films because they're just not clever enough. its entertainment people. just like elwood123 said above hannah montana 3 starts????? wtf????

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    • hulk68

      Jul 12th 2009, 13:28

      3

      It wasn't that bad and it's not the first upset of 2009. That would be Land of the Lost.

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    • FBAHill

      May 23rd 2011, 1:04

      5

      This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Car Stereo

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