From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Valkyrie - C-

Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language, 115 minutes

“Valkyrie” fails to thrill, lacks in action, power and intensity

"Valkyrie," much like its real life plot to assassinate Hitler, isn’t a success though some aspects of the film are indeed fascinating. It strives to be a character-driven action thriller though it’s sorely lacking in action or thrills and boasts a key miscasting (more on that later) that hurts the film. Valkryie is an uninvolving and uninspiring drama that lacks power and resonance and is far less interesting than the real plot itself.

Based on actual events, Valkyrie tells the story of a plot (one of many) to assassinate Hitler and overtake the Nazi regime by Nazi officers and others in the government. The plot is led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), government official Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) and Major-General von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), among many others. With a code name Valkyrie, it ensures success by takeover of the German Nazi government within 3 hours, as opposed to 6 hours for Hitler’s own contingency plan. On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg places a briefcase with a bomb in it under the table in a strategy meeting with Hitler and it goes off. Stauffenberg flees the scene with his aide and becomes the chief architect of taking over Berlin, though they’re unsure of Hitler’s death.

Valykrie’s plot was one of the more successful conspiracies to overthrow Hitler, yet it turned out as unsuccessful as the others, and was eventually squashed, with Stauffenberg and the rest of these co-conspirators executed or put to death. Ironically, within 9 months of this conspiracy, Hitler himself along with his Nazi regime would be dead as the Allies conquered Europe.

Bryan Singer, a skilled director of the “X Men” movies and “The Usual Suspects” (along with another Nazi-themed drama, the frightening “Apt Pupil”), fails to ignite much interest here, mainly due to the dull first hour that outlines the plot and its details. “Valkyrie” has been a troubled production from nearly the beginning, as they faced challenges in location shoots, pushing around release dates, to lawsuits filed by extras against Cruise himself. “Valkyrie,” as of late, has wisely been marketed as an action-thriller that happens to star Cruise, not a Tom Cruise movie per se.

Speaking of which, the miscast Cruise does bear an uncanny resemblance to the real Stauffenburg, but he never attempts any sort of accent (it would've been laughable anyway) and he's out of place here and the central reason why the film doesn't work well. Cruise seems to be playing yet another action-adventure version of himself and it's simply hard buying into his notion of playing an anti-Nazi hero. As for the plot itself, a few minor details have been changed, but Singer is too detailed in explaining the plot when he should've been building tension around it. The final act in particular lacks the power and intensity something like this should have.

There are some sturdy supporting players in "Valkyrie," including Nighy, Branagh, Stamp, and especially Tom Wilkinson as the slimy General Fromm. However, the most memorable impression comes very briefly from foreign actress Carice van Houten as Stauffenberg’s wife (who actually survived the war and died just a couple of years ago), who with minimal dialogue and sad eyes reveals more than Cruise or the rest of the cast.

“Valkyrie” is not a bad film, just not the great one it strives to be, which is unfortunate for a talented director like Singer and particularly for Cruise, whose film company UA is distributing it and who definitely needs a hit film he's largely responsible for. The best thing about “Valkyrie” is that it sheds light on and is dedicated to those like the real Stauffenberg who fought for freedom in Nazi Germany.