“Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.”
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander
Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Terrance Stamp, Tom Wilkinson
What is it with our undying fascination with movies about Nazis? And for that matter movies about Nazis and art and music (Swing Kids, The Night Porter, Cabaret)? Valkyrie is one of six movies released in 2008 that deals with Nazism in some way. ’Operation Valkyrie’ was the 15th and final plot by Germans to kill Adolf Hitler in World War II and is named after Richard Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries, a song you might know from Apocalypse Now or Bugs Bunny depending on your upbringing (Kill da waa-bitt! Kill da waa-bit!)
The plot is fairly simple. Ethan Hunt-…I mean…Colonel Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is fighting a losing German military campaign in North Africa. There he realizes Hitler’s vision of Germany is failing the people and he writes it in his journal as he clenches his jaw and furrows his eyebrows. But then his base is bombed, he loses an eyeball, gets a badass eye patch, comes home to the wife and many kids and takes up a cushy government job. It is not lot long before he finds some other guys around the office (Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp) who don’t like The Fuhrer either and are already working on a plot to kill him and stage a coup of the German Government. These men desperately try to get the plan together quickly without being discovered and Stauffenberg is chosen to be the one to plant the bomb in Hitler‘s inner sanctum, The Wolf‘s Den. SPOILER: Hitler lives.
I don’t know how this started, but it seems that everyone I speak to about this movie “has heard that it’s horrible”. It really isn’t that bad. Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns) weaves together a well-paced, interesting thriller about the men who had the courage to stand up against the evil surrounding them. Once I got through the exposition this movie had me very invested in what was going to happen to the characters right up to the end.
Tom Cruise isn’t awful in this movie like many people have told me he was. He’s just another version of Tom Cruise. The main problem is simply that he brought nothing to his portrayal of Stauffenberg. It is exactly as you would expect it to be and no more. The rest of the cast is comprised of (sometimes) brilliant actors who seem to just be playing their characters very adequately, reminding me of some regular guys at their office job, just passing the time before they can go home. Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terrance Stamp bring little gravity to the screen, but admittedly the script doesn’t give them a lot to do. There is a particularly heavy-handed scene where Hitler (whose part in the movie is decidedly small and unremarkable) tells Stauffenberg that “In order to understand national socialism you must understand Wagner.” The bottom line is that when this movie shifts away from the mostly bureaucratic conflicts between the main characters and into the careful silences and suspense of the scenes leading up to the main event the film really works. What gives it some extra momentum as well are the details of this historic plot that most of us don’t know about and it is truly fascinating to watch this expertly planned coup inevitably fail. However the rest is forgettable, and sadly so because this is a great story imbedded in a sad chapter of human history.
Great moment: The aerial shot of the guy swimming in his indoor pool with the swastika-tiled bottom.
Not great moment(s): Each time Cruise plays with his glass eyeball (he even puts it in a dude’s drink!)