- Rated PG-13
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All photos © MGM
Reviewed by David Medsker
ryan Singer is not a “meh” filmmaker. His movies swing for the fence beyond the fence beyond the stadium wall, and while he doesn’t always succeed (I will admit to overpraising “Superman Returns” upon its release), you can always tell that he’s trying to deliver something extraordinary. So what is it that he saw in the source material for “Valkyrie” that made him think this would make for a killer Bryan Singer movie? It is light on action and mistakes furious politicking for suspense; in other words, it’s meh.
Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a disgruntled Nazi soldier who has come to realize that Der Fuhrer Adolph Hitler (David Bamber) is a bigger threat to Germany than the Allied forces. After an attack on his post in Africa leaves him disfigured, he vows to take the Fuhrer down by any means necessary, even if such an act of treason will surely mean his life. As it turns out, there are several officers and businessmen with the same goals, and Stauffenberg sees a loophole that his comrades can use to wrest power from the SS: Operation Valkyrie, which employs a group of contingency troops to essentially police the police. To get his plan to work, though, he needs to take out the Fuhrer first, which is much easier said than done.
The head-scratching business surrounding the trailer for “Valkyrie” – is Tom Cruise even trying to use a German accent? – is explained in the movie’s first 30 seconds, where we see Cruise writing in his journal, his thoughts narrated in German (his voice and everything) and subtitled in English. Slowly, the German disappears, replaced by English, and everyone speaks English from there (though accents vary based on the actors’ country of origin). A tad unconventional, but it certainly makes the movie easier to digest.
Then you quickly realize that there isn’t much here to digest. The story feels more appropriate for a TV movie than a widescreen, big-budget spectacle. Did this movie need Cruise as its lead, and Kenneth Branagh (who disappears for well over an hour), Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp in the supporting roles? Most of them do little besides talk – as military coups go, this is as bloodless as they get – and when Stauffenberg is working the phones in attempt to perpetuate the ruse, I couldn’t help but think of Sean Penn in “Milk,” tabulating the votes for and against Proposition 6. That’s right, the man who plotted to bring down the greatest villain of his generation did so by pushing paper, not pulling a trigger. Not terribly suspenseful, when all is said, and said, and said, and done.
“Valkyrie” isn’t an unwatchable movie; it’s just not a terribly absorbing one. Villains don’t come gift-wrapped any better than Hitler, so any movie involving his potential assassination should come armed for bear. Instead, we get Bryan Singer shooting a handful of Hollywood’s finest (and Tom Cruise) talking a lot. Meh.
Special Edition DVD Review:
Not a whole lot to speak of, which is understandable given the movie's decent but underwhelming box office performance, but the few extras they provided will interest fans of the film. There are two audio commentaries, one featuring Tom Cruise, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Richard McQuarrie, and another featuring McQuarrie and co-writer Nathan Alexander. There is also a captivating featurette on the making of the movie which includes interviews with all of the big-name actors and some startling side-by-side shots of the actors in character and their similarity to the real-life people they're playing. The last feature is a made-for TV special on Operation Valkyrie.