Published on December 25th, 2008 | by simeon0
Bringing historical films to the screen can be a challenge for a number of reasons. First, the filmmakers often have to condense events that happened over several weeks and months down to a two to three hour format. Secondly, holding the audience can be tricky especially when it covers an event where the outcome is well known. The final and perhaps most important obstacle is that of casting. For every George C. Scott who nailed the iconic figure of Patton there are countless others that have to be kind, not been up to the task.
Such is the case with the new World War II drama “Valkyrie” which follows a group of Nazi officers who plotted to kill Hitler and end the war. The film stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, a respected officer who is recruited into a conspiracy of high ranking Nazis and other officials who plan to end the war by killing Hitler.
The film concentrates on Von Stauffenberg’s attempt to recruit others into the plan as he attempts to devise the best way for he and his fellow conspirators to carry out their plan and in doing so, keeping suspicions of themselves. This is no easy task as not only must they make sure that only people whom they trust to be likeminded or sympathetic to their objectives can be difficult as the simple mention of their intentions is treason and would result in all of them being put to death.
The plan is named Valkyrie after a policy that was put in place to restore order should anything catastrophic happen. A unit under the command of General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkiknson) would be dispatched to secure vital locales. This is key to Von Stauffenberg’s plan as he realizes that should their plan succeed, they will have to work quickly to round up the S.S. and install a new government before anyone else could. The S.S. would be accused of starting the coup, and with them and Hitler out of the picture it is assumed they will soon have complete control of the country.
As the film unfolds with amazingly very little tension I started to note at how badly out of his league Cruise is especially during his scenes with Terrance Stamp, Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh. Director Bryan Singer does a good job establishing the look and tone of the film, but sadly the film never really builds tension. Once again the issues fall on Cruise who is so utterly out of place that you would swear that he was playing himself. The cast refrains from any German accents which was supposedly at the request of Singer, but sadly this only further alienates Cruise from the mostly European cast. His Von Stauffenberg is a very bland character who has a wife and children, but aside from that we learn little about him as a person and how he came to take the steps he did. Many people were unhappy with Hitler and there were many prior attempts on his life, but we learn little more than a desire to preserve Germany. I also would have liked to get more back story on his fellow conspirators as Von Stauffenberg most surely did not act alone in life and in the film.
As it stands the numerous release delays underscore that what was a good idea quickly becomes weighed down by Cruise and a script from Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote the amazing “The Usual Suspects”)that plays a bit too loose with historical events for my taste.
2 stars out of 5