Valkyrie (2008)

I’m not sure if you can call this a problem in World War II films, but if you know much about that time period, there’s a good chance you know how the film’s going to end. In a film like Valkyrie, which claims to be based on a true story, there’s a chance you already know exactly what happened and as a result, you won’t be surprised at all by what happens. The counter-argument to that is that a good film will be good regardless of how it ends, because on a re-watch, you’ll know the plot regardless.

We begin with a German man getting blown to bits during an air raid. His name is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), and he loses an eye, hand and a couple of fingers in this assault. He lives though, which is beneficial for us. He’s a smart man who is about to come up with a plan to kill Adolf Hitler (David Bamber). Or, more correctly, he’s going to improve upon the plan that some other high-ranking German officers have already devised, and then put that plan into action.

Said plan hinges on an operation called “Valkyrie”, which involves convincing the SS to attack Berlin. How do you pull that off? Well, it’s explained in the film, and I’m not going to get into that here. It doesn’t really matter anyway. All that you need to know is that the plan essentially turns Hitler’s defense system against itself, and after Hitler is killed, a group of other people will form the new government. Of course, if they’re found out before the assassination occurs, they’ll all be arrested for treason and sentenced to death because of that.

So, yeah, it’s a “let’s kill Hitler and free Germany” type of film. If you don’t want to see another one of these, you don’t have much reason to watch Valkyrie. It doesn’t do anything special and it’s not all that great of a film, so if you’re already tired of these types of movies, this one isn’t going to reinvigorate your desire to see people try to kill Hitler. There are a few enjoyable moments, but on the whole is unmemorable.

It really tells two, possibly three, stories. The first involves setting up the situation and planning the assassination. The second is the execution, while the third (some might consider this still second) is the aftermath. What happens after the plan is put into action? If you’ve studied von Stauffenberg before, you know how it ends. If you know anything about how World War II ended, you’ll know how the film concludes. All surprise is lost, and you’ve also been mentally prepping yourself for the ending all throughout, which means that when it finishes, it won’t leave as much of an impact.

However, if you’ve managed to remain ignorant of the events of World War II, then you might get a shock at how Valkyrie ends. And I can see how, if this is the case, you would get emotional. Or at least, I could see that if Valkyrie did a good job building up its characters. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and as a result, I’m not sure if anyone would feel a connection to any of the characters in this film.

There is a serious lack of depth to every person that graces the screen here, which means it’ll be hard to feel a connection to them. The film banks on the fact that you’ll hate Hitler, and as a result, anyone that fights against him is automatically someone to root for. That’s fair enough, but when you want to make for an engaging drama, you need more than that. Valkyrie lacks any character depth, which left me feeling cold.

Tom Cruise also chooses to play his role with a restraint that leaves him uncharismatic. For someone who becomes a leader, he doesn’t come across as one. Maybe this is because of how his character, a real man, was in real life, but since I’m certain other liberties were taken in creating Valkyrie, one more wouldn’t hurt. We get to see Cruise on-screen for the majority of the film’s running time, but since he’s playing such a boring character, watching him isn’t all that enjoyable for the audience.

However, none of the supporting cast could outshine Cruise. Was everyone forbidden to show emotion? There are good actors here like Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson, and yet they all disappear into the background and none of them manage to be memorable or bring much to their character. They’re all super serious people who are fighting for the future of their country, and yet they’re just so boring that I wanted something to enrage them. Nothing ever did.

To top it off, we’re supposed to feel sympathy for Cruise’s character because he has a wife and children. That’s all that comes of that. He occasionally visits them or tries to call them, but he’s not a good father and he doesn’t seem to care much for them. He remarks that if he fails and is captured, the Nazis will come for his family. Against, that’s all that happens. He makes that mention, and you think it would be important, but it turns out that was the film’s way of trying to get us to think that he’s a reluctant leader.

Valkyrie is sometimes thrilling, but it lacks the characters to make it stand out. It’s a movie where people plan an assassination, and then execute the plan and watch the fallout occur. It’s not particularly interesting, the performances were bland, and I can’t say I had fun while watching it. You can also easily figure out how it ends, thanks to it being based on a true story. This isn’t an alternate universe that has a different ending to World War II, so if you know anything about that, you’ll know how well their plan goes. Valkyrie is ultimately not worth a watch, even if it does have a few enjoyable parts.

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