Valkyrie

Movie Information

The Story: Fact-based story of the 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The Lowdown: Reasonably effective, but not a terribly compelling WWII drama that benefits from a strong supporting cast, despite a miscast lead.
Score:

Genre: Fact-Based WWII Drama
Director: Bryan Singer (Superman Returns)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Kenneth Branagh
Rated: PG-13

I went into Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie expecting the worst. The very notion of Tom Cruise as a Nazi officer gets no further than an eye-roll and an “Oh, brother” from me. And while Cruise isn’t especially good in the film, he’s not embarrassingly bad (“Long live sacred Germany!” aside), just terminally miscast. The film itself is an awkward mix of plodding history and general adequacy, with occasional flourishes of visual panache that seem to be from some other, more stylish movie. The shot where the camera starts to spin as it descends on the whirling gramophone record till it attains the same speed as the record, so that we can read the label—Die Walkure (The Valkyrie)—may be the single coolest thing I saw all year. If only the movie surrounding it were in the same league.

Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the historical character who more or less headed up a plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi government. The problem with casting Cruise is that he’s just so resolutely American that he feels like a little boy playing dress up. The decision to have him not affect an accent was probably better than having him do a Conrad Veidt impression while Nazi-lipping cigarettes, which would undoubtedly have gotten a terrific laugh. Of course, the largely Brit supporting cast of ersatz Germans don’t do accents either, but they at least sound foreign to American ears, making them stand out less. That they’re also better actors perhaps factors into this, too.

The truth is that Cruise isn’t the film’s biggest problem—the script by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and newcomer Nathan Alexander is. This is one of those situations where it’s hard to build up much in the way of suspense because the viewer knows from the onset that no one ever succeeded in killing Hitler. (If you don’t know that, I suppose I shouldn’t tell you that the Titanic sank either.) It’s to their—and Singer’s—credit that they get the limited suspense they do out of the concept. But considerably before the ending, it’s hard not to get impatient waiting for the other jackboot to drop, while the movie tries to squeeze every drop of good out of the “if only” aspect of it all. It hardly helps that the film is fuzzy as concerns the motivations behind the plot, which often seem to be largely grounded in the notion that getting rid of Hitler might increase the chances of the plotters not dangling from the end of a rope as war criminals after the war. In this regard, the 1943 propagandistic The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler seems more sincere, since it’s clear why the character wants Hitler dead.

Most of what holds Valkyrie together is the film’s supporting cast. Bill Nighy does most of the heavy lifting in the acting department, but he’s helped out a great deal by Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson. Actually, all the supporting players are good, though a few—like Eddie Izzard (“They will pull you apart like warm bread”) and Carice van Houten (Black Book)—are so underused that they almost might have stayed home. Still, it’s the amassed presence of the supporting cast that gives the film something like the epic gravitas on an acting level that it has on a production level.

In the end, Valkyrie is interesting as history, modest as entertainment, lacking in suspense and a lot less important than it would like to be taken for. Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

22 thoughts on “Valkyrie

  1. T_REX

    OK,OK,OK no more bashing. ( this review didnt bash the film but a lot of people/critics have)

    This film was, to me, a smart man’s historical Mission Impossible. It had elegant production value and a lot of suspense without a lot of silly action.I think all the credit goes to Brian Singer who knows how to direct a great story.
    (btw Superman Returns was great) It is not one of the great films of the year but a film everyone should see.
    When it comes to movie stars Tom Cruise can act.
    Its a shame people can’t seperate his personel life from his work. ( scientology is no more or less silly than any other relion)

  2. Sean Williams

    The film itself is an awkward mix of plodding history and general adequacy, with occasional flourishes of visual panache that seem to be from some other, more stylish movie.

    Conveniently, it’s the flourishes of visual panache that appear in the previews. Sir, your reviews have honed my natural cynicism, but even I thought the trailer looked snazzy.

    The problem with casting Cruise is that he’s just so resolutely American that he feels like a little boy playing dress up.

    The other problem as I see it is that the real Cruise would have publicly endorsed Hitler, personally testified to the efficacy of the Thule Society’s occult rituals, and dismissed “Jew scientists” as baby-killers with commercialistic motivations for endorsing dangerous pseudosciences.

  3. Dionysis

    The review pretty well underscores what the trailers show; my first reaction to seeing one on television was ‘gee, look, it’s Tom Cruise looking ridiculous as Von Stauffenberg’, followed by ‘this is a really solid historical event that could make a really good drama…but Tom Cruise?’

    Perhaps, as T_Rex notes, it really is a shame that people can’t separate Cruise’s personal life from his work (and I agree Scientology is no more goofball than other ‘religions’). But that is directly the fault of Mr. Cruise and his very public exhibitions of bizarre behavior and sanctimonious sermonizing. However, even separating his life from his work, he’s still just not that great an actor. As another reviewer of this film noted a week or so ago (to paraphrase), “any of the other actors in the film would have done a far better cast as Von Stauffenberg than Cruise.”
    I think the casting choice of Cruise was a mistake. While historical dramas are among my favorite genres of film, having actors like the larger-than-life Cruise cast in such ways deters from becoming focused on the story. IMO, a relative unknown would have served the story-telling better as the main figure.
    A comparison (although not a very good one, I admit) would be the HBO movie ‘Conspiracy’, with Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich, where the ‘final solution’ was promulated and sold to German industrialists at Wannsee. I had already seen the far superior German production, The Wannsee Conference, and it was a chilling and very realistic depiction of those events, whereas Conspiracy was just too ‘Hollywood-ish’, in spite of good reviews and a talented cast.
    But it seems that Valkyrie is shaping up to be a box office success, which no doubt is a relief to Mr. Cruise.

  4. Ken Hanke

    However, even separating his life from his work, he’s still just not that great an actor.

    Bingo! My problems with Cruise’s acting far predate all his Scientology hoo-ha. I have simply almost never been impressed by him — the exceptions being Magnolia and the post-couch-jumping Lions for Lambs.

    But it seems that Valkyrie is shaping up to be a box office success, which no doubt is a relief to Mr. Cruise.

    We’ll see about that. The movie came in at no. 4 and has grossed $29.5 million as of Monday. That’s on a $100 million budget that you can probably tack at least $50 million onto for advertising. Rule of thumb is that a movie has to make twice its cost to break even, meaning that this needs to hit $300 million before it’s in the black. It will help that the only thing opening this week is The Reader (not really opening, but going wider).

  5. Sean Williams

    (scientology is no more or less silly than any other relion)

    At the risk of hijacking this thread…

    Three points:

    1. Scientology can’t use mysticism as an excuse. I actually have no objections to magical healing practices, because most occult belief systems treat reality as amorphous, anyways. But Scientology claims to be scientific and “cold-bloodedly rational”, so it’s subject to the standards of science and cold-blooded rationality.

    2. Scientology’s articles of faith may not be any more ridiculous in substance than the articles of faith of other religions, but those other religions were established in eras when their articles of faith seemed plausible. Science in the Fourth Century B.C. could not disprove the idea that the world was created in six days. By contrast, when L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics in 1950, contemporary science had already disproved ninety-nine percent of his claims.

    3. The point isn’t that Scientology’s articles of faith are “silly”; the point is that the practices of the organized Church of Scientology are repulsive and even illegal. And yes, the practices of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages were just as immoral, but the Crusades ended half a millennium ago, so let’s all move on, okay? Scientology is the most repressive, most violent major religion active today, even moreso than fundamentalist Islam.

    tl;dr version: Scientology is evil.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I’ll revert to my usual stance on Scientology — Never trust a religion headed up by a guy wearing a yachting cap.

  7. Sean Williams

    Also, whenever you hear a sales pitch for a religion predicated on the basic goodness of humanity, put your hand on your wallet.

  8. dave

    “Never trust a religion headed up by a guy wearing a yachting cap. ”

    Well, at least jesus has that going for him…

  9. Ken Hanke

    Well, at least jesus has that going for him…

    On the downside, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the Zig-Zag man.

  10. Dionysis

    “On the downside, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the Zig-Zag man.”

    Now THAT brings back some (foggy) memories.

  11. Piffy!

    I kinda figured that this was Cruise’s defense for his involvement in the church of Scientology. He’s really only involved so he can take out the top leadership?

  12. Piffy!

    “Well, at least jesus has that going for him…

    On the downside, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the Zig-Zag man. ”

    Thats a downside? I would totally follow a religion with the Zig Zag man as the savior. In fact, i think i already belong to one.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I kinda figured that this was Cruise’s defense for his involvement in the church of Scientology. He’s really only involved so he can take out the top leadership?

    In the immortal words of Criswell, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?”

  14. Ken Hanke

    We are talking about the movie Valkyrie, right?

    I think you and I may be the only ones on this thread who’ve actually seen it.

    This is part and parcel of the problem of casting someone like Cruise in a movie — and I’d feel sorry for Singer and his movie, but he had to know this going in. When a star — and Cruise is a movie star, not an actor — reaches a certain level of exposure outside his onscreen presence, it’s going to spill over. It’s pretty inescapable. Look at the trailer for the Errol Flynn war picure, Objective Burma. When it hit theaters Flynn was on trial for statutory rape. The trailer had the bad fortune to have an announcer say, “They know only one command — attack!” Of course, it brought down the house in every theater it played because of matters quite apart from the film or Flynn’s stardom. It was pulled and the sound removed from that part of the trailer. (If you bump into the trailer on TCM, you can easily hear where the line went, because the track just goes to dead silence.) Cruise is in the same league. He’s made such a spectacle of himself that it takes precedence over everything.

  15. T_REX

    “This is part and parcel of the problem of casting someone like Cruise in a movie—and I’d feel sorry for Singer and his movie, but he had to know this going in”

    I might be wrong but wasn’t this film Tom’s to begin with? Isn’t he the the main producer?
    Like I said, I might be wrong but I thought this was one of his big projects with United Artist.
    The main reason I want this film to succeed is because of UA, keep it alive even if it is really not the original UA.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I might be wrong but wasn’t this film Tom’s to begin with? Isn’t he the the main producer?

    No to the first, yes to the second. The writer brought the project to Singer, who pitched it to UA (co-owned by Cruise and Wagner). The go-ahead was then predicated on Cruise starring.

    The main reason I want this film to succeed is because of UA, keep it alive even if it is really not the original UA.

    Well, since Chaplin, Griffith, Fairbanks and Pickford have been dead for some time, it could hardly be the original UA for 1919. I’m a little perplexed as to why you’re attached to the UA brand, though. Studio brands haven’t really meant much in 50 years or so. Yes, there was a time when Paramount or MGM or Universal indicated a certain type of movie, but that’s long ago. Even at that, UA really never figured in on that level, since it was always more a releasing company and not a studio in the normal sense, meaning it had no “signature.” The UA logo is on a lot of movies I admire — Hard Day’s Night, Help!, actually nearly all of Richard Lester’s 1960s output, Women in Love, The Music Lovers, etc. — but none of these could properly be said to have been made by UA. Financed and released by, yes, but not made by.

  17. Ken Hanke

    another critic I respect on the same level as Ken Hanke…..

    Is it coincidental that Mark and I are both friends of Ken Russell?

Leave a Reply