Over the course of Hitler’s devastating reign of terror as the leader of Nazi Germany he commanded what appeared to be unwavering loyalty from all under his command. However, during his tyrannical tenure there were a total of seventeen assassination attempts made on Hitler’s life. This fact proved that not everyone within his grasp was onboard with the Fuhrer’s genocidal plans, and that some were even willing to risk their very lives to put an end to his evil. Out of the seventeen attempts, the final attempt codenamed Operation Walküre, remains one of the most infamous. This is true, not only for how the operation was carried out, but also for just how far reaching the disillusionment with the Nazi party and the atrocities they committed had become amongst some of the military and civilians within the country.
“Valkyrie” is based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), who led a group of high-ranking officials within Nazi Germany in an incredible assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler. For them to succeed would mean Germany could begin to remove the stain of Hitler’s reign, but to fail would mean that all involved would become traitors to their country and death would inevitably follow.
For “Valkyrie” to actually succeed in creating the undeniably palpable sense of tension surrounding the events on screen is truly surprising to me. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) has crafted a fast-paced, albeit streamlined account, of the events leading up to and following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler during World War II. To achieve this, the screenplay focused upon the bigger moments within the assassination plot to give audiences a general understanding of what will happen should they win the day, while also repeatedly mentioning the possible repercussions that would occur should the coup d’état fail. Those two story elements, along with Singer’s quick-cuts in the film’s editing process, allowed the story to become much more exhilarating and suspenseful than what should have been possible.
The screenplay’s tightly paced, streamlined narrative definitely allowed the movie to become much more of a thriller rather than an historical drama, which was precisely how director Bryan Singer (“Superman Returns”) had envisioned the film. However, in taking this route the film ultimately suffers from being too simplistic and truncated. The plot of Operation Walküre was an intricately conceived plan that was not implemented on a whim, and it required finesse, precision, dedication, and not to mention a good amount of luck. While the film does touch on the fact that the conspirators did not take their decision lightly, it did appear that the operation was not all that hard to devise or execute. Now, I understand that certain elements of the plot and events surrounding it had to be omitted or condensed in order for the film to fit into a two hour running time; yet, in doing so, this approach made the coup seem far too easy to accomplish.
Another problem was that in some ways the story unfolded in an uneven manner. On the one hand the conspirators obviously feared the potential severity of the consequences should they fail, but at the same time the abridged approach to conveying the plot and its drawbacks made the consequences unrealistically appear as less threatening and not nearly as much of a hindrance to signing up for the cause as one might have thought. Even though Bryan Singer wanted to create a thriller surrounding this moment in history, I personally feel that he would have had far greater success with the end result had he opted for a more detailed account as one would find in a typical historical drama. In doing this, the movie could have taken much more time in laying out the various details of the operation, and also shedding even more light on the conspirators involved; therefore providing audiences with a much more fulfilling experience.
Leading the cast in this average and uneven historical thriller is the one-time Hollywood powerhouse, Tom Cruise (“Collateral”). Over the years, I have seen many of Tom Cruise’s films, and enjoyed a good majority of them along the way. However, within those plethora of films lies a myriad of performances, ranging from superb (“Collateral”) to good (“Mission: Impossible 2”) to simply phoning it in (as was the case with this film). What went wrong with Tom Cruise’s performance in this movie was his extremely flat, unenthused delivery, a general lack of charisma or captivating presence (the real Stauffenberg was known as a very charismatic man), and an obviously lacking German-esque accent.
In regards to the issue of the accent or lack thereof, I understand that many of the other members of the cast didn’t adopt German accents for their roles either. However, I know from some of their previous performances, and just their overall talents as actors, that most of them could have adopted a passable accent, if given the opportunity. Yet for this film, director Bryan Singer apparently informed the non-German actors that they were not required to convey an accent because he wasn’t concerned with making an historical drama/documentary, but merely an entertaining thriller. To me this sounds more like an excuse used to cover Cruise’s shortcomings as an actor than anything else, and an obvious ploy on Singer’s part to try to protect his lead actor from becoming embarrassment.
In my opinion, while Cruise did an adequate job in some scenes, his lack of commitment and/or skill in other scenes opposite the much more capable members of the cast made it abundantly clear that Cruise was way out of his league in this film. Thus, leading me, and many other viewers, to believe that any of the other cast members could have done a much more authentic and accurate job of portraying this historical figure, and that the movie would have benefited from this type of change in the end.
Alongside Tom Cruise was an extremely talented assemblage of actors whose performances while good, never veered towards the great or even exceptional side of the spectrum. This was no doubt a by-product of their performances being much more reserved so as to not outshine their lead actor too much in his attempted “comeback” movie. Among this group of men featuring the likes of Tom Wilkinson (“Batman Begins”), Bill Nighy (“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”) and Terrence Stamp (“Yes Man”), I found myself disappointed by how average all of their performances tended to be. Again, none of the supporting performances were bad; I just expected more from actors of their caliber. So the movie just felt extremely wanting in this area.
Two other members of the supporting cast worth noting, although their lack of screen time makes them seem more like cameos, Kenneth Branagh (“Wild Wild West”) and comedian Eddie Izzard (TV’s “The Riches”) seemed to show the most promising performances. Yet their lack of time on camera made their historical figures’ inclusion into the story seem like afterthoughts. It felt as if the writer thought that their characters, based on the few scenes they appeared in the movie, were somewhat important to the plot (to what extent I don’t know); however, in the end it didn’t seem like they were worth mentioning all that much to him. This is surprising since Eddie Izzard’s character’s position at the Wolf’s Lair seemed very important to the conspirators’ cause. I guess these two actors’ lacking story arcs were just another example of how the trimmed down storyline caused the movie to fall way short of its potential.
“Valkyrie” could have been, and arguably should have been, another great World War II era movie that focused on an important event in history, that if successful could have changed everything from that moment on. Yet questionable decisions on the part of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie, regarding making this a faster-paced thriller rather than an historical drama, resulted in a merely average film that will never be as memorable as some of the other entries surrounding this war. Not to mention a weak performance from Tom Cruise, and universally average portrayals from the remainder of the cast, in the end “Valkyrie” will go down as being unmemorable for a movie of its genre.
“Valkyrie” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.