Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McNally, Christian Berkel
Released: 2008 / Genre: War / Country: USA / IMDB
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It must be hard making a tension-filled thriller when the audience knows what’s going to happen in the end. That was the task given to the once wonder-child Bryan Singer (the guy that gave us the brilliant Usual Suspects), whose career has, in this reviewer’s eyes, tailed off into commerciality over quality. A string of Superhero hits has gone to the head of Singer, and while talented writer and friend Christopher McQuarrie pens new film Valkyrie, Singer’s endeavour into the true story of Claus von Stauffenberg’s attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler is a laboured and dull affair.
The film follows the exploits of Stauffenberg’s disillusioned army lieutenant who has reservations (to say the least) about Hitler’s Germany. After losing his right hand, his left eye, and several fingers on his left hand in a bombing raid by allied fighter planes, he joins an underground resistance movement made up of high-level army personnel and civilians. They decide they must assassinate Hitler and assume control of the government. They can then enter into a truce with the allies and end the war.
The first thing that must be said is these conspirators were brave souls who put their lives on the line to end the war and Hitler’s regime. It is also an important historical story, just as it is an example of human courage. But it is also an American movie made for western audiences. It stinks of hypocrisy. It takes its audience as an ignorant mass, incapable of believing Germany’s population during World War II could harbour any thoughts beyond Nazi doctrine and a hatred for all non-Aryans. That’s the film’s central conceit: it says – did you know, believe it or not, there were some people in Germany who didn’t throw stones at the Jews.
I was constantly thrown out of the movie by the chosen language and accents of the actors. Fair enough, telling the film entirely in German with either little known German actors or American/British actors speaking the native tongue of the country, isn’t commercially viable. But, Singer has his actors speaking English in what appears to be their own accent. What we get are Americans and Brits, dressed up in Nazi uniform, speaking English in American and British accents, telling the story of one of Germany’s most powerful anti-Nazi uprisings. It threw me out of the movie. Christian Berkel, a German by birth who plays Quirnheim in the film, does give us something of his roots in his English diction, but again, it gives the story a false sense of insecurity. There’s a congregation of different accents that neither place you here or there. Are we in Germany (as the uniforms would suggest), or are we in a Cornish English town or the American mid-west?
The film starts sluggishly but its best moments occur in the first half when the conspirators are building their army and deciding on the course of action. Tom Cruise is serviceable in the role of Stauffenberg but it’s only a handicapped version of his Ethan Hunt character from Mission: Impossible. Singer’s control of the main assassination attempt is suitably fast paced and hectic but little additions such as Cruise nearly being caught at the guard post after delivering the bomb remind you that you are watching a piece of Hollywood entertainment.
Valkyrie has an important story to tell. It’s a story of courage and pro-action. But it’s a hypocritical film that gives its audience little respect. These brave men (and women) should be remembered, but for the right reasons.
Review by Daniel Stephens