Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Valkyrie

 

Review by Patrick Hodges

Hollywood ending.”

We all know what it means.  90% of the films that we, as moviegoers watch, have it.  The good guys win, the bad guys lose, the hero gets the girl, yada yada yada.  Action movies, comic-book movies, underdog sports movies, romantic comedies, you name it.  People go to theaters to be entertained, and to leave feeling good.

Which means, if a good serious drama comes along that means, from the get-go, to deprive us of our happy ending, it had better be damn good.  In 1996, a small film called The Usual Suspects blew unceremoniously through theaters, though it had an intriguing premise:  all of the film’s protagonists (who were base villains, every one) were dead, save one, who was recounting the story of his colleagues’ demise to the police.  We knew how it would end… and yet, we didn’t.  And that film remains, to this day, one of the most-watched, most-talked about and much-vamped crime dramas of all time.  It won two Academy Awards that year, including for Best Original Screenplay for writer Christopher McQuarrie.

Twelve years later, McQuarrie re-teams with Suspects director Bryan Singer, and again, you know going in that there will be no “Hollywood ending” here either, given that the subject matter pretty much precludes it.  A group of German military officers, disgusted with what the rise of Adolf Hitler to power has done to their beloved homeland, concoct a plan to assassinate him and take control before their country is reduced to ashes.

At the forefront is Col. Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), whose disenchantment grows exponentially after he suffers injuries in an RAF attack that cost him his left eye, his right hand and most of his left.  Some might take umbrage with the fact that Cruise plays his role with not a hint of a German accent, and that most of the supporting cast is played by a bevy of talented veteran British actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard; however, I say that that would have been preferable to having Cruise do  an unconvincing and obviously fake German accent, which would have distracted the audience from the story.

The story, which is based on true events, is fairly predictable to anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about 20th-century history:  obviously, the plot will fail, since everyone knows that Hitler did not meet his end in this way.  Ergo, you know pretty much what will happened to Valkyrie’s “heroes”.  And that is, really, and perhaps unfairly, my only beef with the film.

Doomed to failure or not, this is a story that needed to be told; as one of the main characters points out, “We have to show the world that not all of us were like (Hitler).”  This was a well-acted, tense, taut drama; those who think that it was simply a vehicle for Cruise would be mistaken, this is very much an ensemble piece, and everyone played their part to the hilt, and I enjoyed it very much.

So there was no “Hollywood ending”.  Hmph.   At the theater I went to, there were eleven other screens showing feel-good movies.  Maybe that’s not always called for.

4 / 5 stars
 
 
 

By Stuart Bland

In the lead up to the release of Valkyrie, there was a lot of debate as to the decision of casting Tom Cruise as a Nazi, and whether he would be able to pull it off. There was also some debate into whether Bryan Singer, director of previous masterpieces such as The Usual Suspects and X-Men 2: X-Men United had lost his touch. Following the success of the Marvel comic book adaptation, Singer was offered the chance to develop a sequel to the Superman series, and what resulted was an immensely structured narrative, some brilliant acting, but maybe not enough action. Personally, I loved the movie, but it didn’t click with audiences and turned in a rather unsatisfying box office return. This has essentially killed a possible franchise for the time being with it being constantly delayed, while also, maybe gratefully, allowing Singer to focus on other projects.

The first of these is Valkyrie, a true story which attempts to interpret one of a number of assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler at the close of the Second World War. The team of potential traitors are led by Cruise’s Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, one of a highly connected cabal of Nazi officers increasingly disillusioned and horrified by the actions of their illustrious leader. This group had the future of Germany, the country they loved, in their hearts, a future that would start with Hitler’s removal. Putting their lives, as well as those of their families, on the line, the committee developed a plot to not only assassinate Hitler, but to bring down his regime, and hopefully end the war.

The plot is devised through the approval of a clause of “Operation Valkyrie” by Hitler himself, which would allow secret forces to take over the running of the country if anything should ever happen to their leader (i.e. through arrest or death – although those of us who know supporting actor and comic Eddie Izzard would be tempted to call ‘cake or death’!).

Now, of course most of us who attended history classes in school will know that the plot obviously failed (and if you didn’t then I’m sorry to reveal the ending, but really, you ought to know this already).  However, despite this, I think it must be a testament to the narrative so perfectly devised by Christopher McQuarrie, as well as Singer’s masterful direction, that the movie maintains such a compelling and gripping pace. The excitement and empathy evoked demands you to sit up and take note, you want to know how and why the plot fails.

All of this is masterfully supported by a series of brilliant veteran British actors. Not one member of the cast, Cruise included, lets the side down. The acting is superb; it is believable and induces sympathy for their doomed attempt. Despite a few complaints that the dialogue is spoken in English with the actors’ own accents, this does not distract from the movie, as a transition is well developed in the opening credits which acknowledge the actors as German.

One area which I felt could have been developed further was the subplot regarding Von Stauffenberg’s wife, in which Cruise occasionally pops in to ensure her wellbeing. These attempts at developing a romantic subplot are left unsatisfying and largely contrived.

However, this is a minor quibble in a movie that pulsates at the same velocity as Wagner’s classic anthem. Singer is truly back on form, and he has once again provided his audience with a thriller that is utterly compelling. Roll on his next project (and I would be very happy if that was another outing for the Man Of Steel).

4 / 5 stars

Comments (1):

  • W @ 05/31/2009 ( 10:33:59 AM )
    Yeah, umm... Von Stauffenberg and his comrades were Nazis in every sense of the word. They hated Jews and didn't mind exterminating them, or at least rounding them up and keeping them from the rest of the population. They were in favor of everything Hitler stood for, except they though he was handling the war wrong. They were to keep the concentration camp system and they wanted to keep peace with Russia because they knew they couldn't fight a two-front war.

    I haven't seen the film yet (watching Mongol and Godfather II right now) but everything I've heard about it puts one group of Nazis as heroes because they don't like Hitler. Its like saying that a group of KKK members go out and kill people of other races, but they don't like the Grand Dragon, so they're heroes.

    The true German heroes during the Third Reich were those that fought against the Nazis like those that hid Jews or those that handed out anti-Nazi propaganda like Sophie Scholl (there's a film out about her, but I haven't seen it yet).
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