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Movie Review: Valkyrie

'Valkyrie' plays loose with history of war
Valkyrie
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 120 min
Release Date: 2008-12-25
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

A caller to WFAE's “Charlotte Talks” complained last week that movie critics on the show had given away the ending to “Valkyrie”: Adolf Hitler does not get assassinated in the middle of World War II.

But suspense is not the issue when the film follows a bunch of plotters who hoped to blow Hitler up in his security bunker. We know they failed; what we don't know is what motivated them to abandon the leader to whom they'd sworn loyalty.

Unfortunately, we still don't know after seeing “Valkyrie.” What might have been a revealing psychological drama has been reduced to a superficially entertaining spy story full of hair's-breadth escapes. It's slickly executed, handsomely acted for the most part and utterly easy to forget.

This botched effort was one of almost four dozen attempts to kill Hitler. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) heads a group of officers who are disgusted with Hitler's depredations and wish to take power themselves to negotiate a truce with the Allies.

They plan to blow him up in his bunker at the Wolf's Lair, cut off communications to that mountain hideout and claim the SS and Gestapo have begun a coup. Von Stauffenberg, who controls the reserve forces of the German Army in Berlin, will arrest SS and Gestapo members and pick a chancellor who can restore democracy.

Except for a few sentences from von Stauffenberg in a letter, we never learn what motivates these conspirators or what each has at stake. (It's not enough to assume any “good” German would naturally want to kill the “evil” Hitler.) The real colonel was a Roman Catholic aristocrat who acted for many reasons, some related to class and religious beliefs; you won't hear those here. Of course, he was also 10 years younger and half a foot taller than Cruise, but let that pass.

Director Bryan Singer and writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander play fast and loose with history to increase tension. In reality, Hitler addressed the German people by radio, telling them he was safe, less than three hours after the colonel launched his Valkyrie coup. In the movie, the count has time to organize resistance across occupied Europe before the news gets out.

The filmmakers have entrusted supporting roles to reliable British actors – Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh – and thrown in one German, Thomas Kretschmann, whose authentic look and accent make them all seem slightly phony.

Cruise, who's also one of the executive producers, was cast for star power, though I doubt many fans will be drawn to this story by his presence. He's only two years younger than Branagh and a few months younger than Izzard, yet he seems callow beside his co-stars, like a man struggling to fill boots a size too big. His performance has a reserved quality that's meant to suggest quiet, stoic leadership but comes off more an attempt to behave respectfully among the grownups.

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Dec. 24, 2008 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

What might have been a revealing psychological drama has been reduced to a superficially entertaining spy story full of hair's-breadth escapes. It's slickly executed, handsomely acted for the most part and utterly easy to forget.

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