Tom Cruise is passable in the role of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the well-born military leader of the last, spectacular attempted coup against Hitler. That is, he has the right bearing, that of a man of full confidence, born to command. But in one way, he’s out of place.
The trouble is, though he plays a German, what he needs, and lacks, is an English accent. That’s because the rest of the cast, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Hollander, Eddie Izzard, and Terrence Stamp, to name a few, are English, and with their plummy voices they don’t let you forget it. Of course, it’s also hard to forget that Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, despite the eye patch and the crisp uniforms.
Despite us knowing the outcome even before walking into the theater, the most impressive aspect of Valkyrie is its ability to build enough tension that for a few brief moments we may actually believe that Stauffenberg and his men will actually succeed in their mission. It has to be the picture’s biggest strength, anything less than convincing would have been an utter failure. I knew a fair amount about the July 20th plot going into the film, and I can honestly say I was impressed how far the plot advanced and how close these men came to succeeding.
I felt that it was paced a bit too hastily in the beginning as there was little time spent on introductions or to flesh out details. While this helps with tempo, it is a dangerous prospect not to take the time to develop a relationship between the viewer and the characters. I found that I wasn’t really invested in the story until the actual assassination plot began to unfold.
The other problem I had with the film is the focus on the protagonists who wanted to bet rid of Hitler as “good guys.” The audience is made to forget that these men were all part of a machine that committed horrific crimes. Their effort to rid themselves of Hitler was not simply a noble cause, it was a plot by one class to get back some of their tarnished honour. The movie completely side stepped this paradox, and it is the movie’s insistence on showing history in simplistic terms that lessens its impact.
The second half of Valkyrie continues at a brisk pace, but it also seemed much more inviting. What a difficult prospect, to make a thriller with an ending that has already been spoiled by history. There were real moments of suspense (and others heavily forced), but the best part was witnessing the assassination attempt and the resulting chaotic scramble to supplant Hitler in its aftermath.
It’s no Schindler’s List or Down Fall, but Valkyrie is an entertaining look at some of the events of WWII from within the Nazi Reich. While certainly not an uplifting film, it is still one that is worth seeing.
By Will Freeman (Contributor) http://www.planeturban.com.au/movie_reviews