Yes, Tom Cruise is a bizarre choice to portray a one-handed, eye-patch-wearing dissenting Colonel in Hitler’s army, but if he can be a vampire, a samurai, and a balding movie producer, why not a German officer? After a clever transition from subtitles to English, Valkyrie unfolds a mesmerizing story that succeeds in maintaining a constant suspense regardless of an ultimate outcome known to all. While perhaps not the best WWII movie to premiere this year, Valkyrie still supplies the thrills it promises and shouldn’t be discarded simply for its unconventional casting.
Based on the true story of the last plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Valkyrie follows the determined Colonel von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) as he joins forces with high-ranking dissenting officers Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Beck (Terence Stamp), and von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) to plan the coup. Revising operation Valkyrie, Hitler’s own policy to protect his regime, the conspirators arrange to eradicate Hitler and mobilize infantry reserves to take over Berlin – but as Beck states, in a military operation nothing ever goes according to plan…
Although it’s primarily a history lesson about a World War II treason collusion many are unaware of (and further trivialized by the amount of murder attempts given during the coda), Valkyrie makes superb use of suspense and tension to keep the relatively simple story consistently entertaining. Many criticize the use of Tom Cruise in the lead role of a German dissenter, but the language barrier and problematic accent are immediately taken care of in a manner that bypasses the use of subtitles – and is certainly less distracting than the English-speaking absurdity of films like 10,000 B.C. The acting itself never gets in the way of progressing the plot and the characters are just engaging enough that indifference over disinterest will likely be its greatest challenge.
Valkyrie works most impressively if expectations are at a minimum when going in to the theater. The trailer makes it look like it’s entirely an action film with shades of Mission: Impossible mixed in for good measure. To the viewer with few suppositions, Valkyrie might contribute a few surprises, namely in the true historical elements and the suspense that surrounds them, and the poignancy of the soldiers who risked their lives to fight against the dictatorship they initially supported. It may not be tricky to hypothesize the conclusion, but Bryan Singer’s direction at least keeps the plot moving effortlessly and the characters unvaryingly amusing (especially the supporting cast of veteran character actors including Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and Kenneth Branagh).
– The Massie Twins (www.GoneWithTheTwins.com)