Review by Jack Foley
THERE was a time when Bryan Singer’s World War Two film Valkyrie looked almost as doomed to failure as the mission it depicts itself.
Firstly, Germany objected to Tom Cruise and initially denied access to certain historical locations, then film stock got damaged and a key scene had to be re-shot, and then reports emerged of stuntment being injured in an on-set accident involving a truck.
Valkyrie seemed to have too many problems for even a director of Singer’s calibre to resolve… let alone a supporting cast full of reliable Brits.
It’s amazing, then, that given the scepticism surrounding it, Singer’s film is as good as it is.
The story it depicts will be familiar to anyone who knows the slightest thing about World War Two history, focusing on the plot to kill Hitler by a group of disgruntled German officials. But just how wide the conspiracy was, or how close it came to pulling off the coup that would have followed, may not be as widely known.
And it’s in this respect that Singer does well to create the tension that does ensue… exposing the fine details of a plot that entailed using Hitler’s own policies against him, blaming the SS for his assassination and then overthrowing and re-installing their own government in the chaos that ensued with a view to negotiating a truce with the advancing Allies.
We know that Stauffenberg failed… but Singer, with help from Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects), shows just how close they came – and how even the smallest hesitation or quirk of fate prevented the course of history being changed.
What weakens Valkyrie, however, is Singer’s decision to paint Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators as absolute heroes. There are very few shades of grey and the moral complexity that existed in McQuarrie’s Usual Suspects screenplay is oddly lacking here.
Some could argue – and indeed many Germans still do – that Stauffenberg and company could see the writing on the wall, or were as one character in the film puts it, “rats deserting a sinking ship”. History, of course, denied us the opportunity of seeing just what they might have done had they succeeded, and what kind of government – democratic or otherwise – would have been installed.
Singer, though, opts instead to craft a thriller with the emphasis on doomed heroism.
Cruise, too, suffers by virtue of his high-profile off-screen and viewers must work hard during the early part of the film to overcome this. He’s a victim of his own celebrity for the purposes of this movie, even though his performance is typically committed and intense.
The British cast are, however, as good as we’ve come to expect, with Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Jamie Parker and Eddie Izzard all standing out. It’s just a shame that Kenneth Branagh isn’t afforded more time, as his absence is sorely felt.
Such flaws aside, however, Valkyrie does entertain in an old-school, traditional kind of way. It boasts a keen eye for period detail, doesn’t shirk from some of the grittier cost of failure and should keep viewers suitably enthralled throughout. It also achieves what it set out to in making people aware that a strong resistance did, in fact, exist within Germany.
Running time: 2hrs
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 8, 2009
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- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard interview
- Tom Hollander and Jamie Parker interview
- Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann interview
- Tom Cruise attends Valkyrie UK premiere
- Valkyrie UK premiere photos
- Cruise honoured for Valkyrie role
- View photos of Valkyrie
- Read our preview