REVIEW OF VALKYRIE
‘ I swear by God this sacred oath: That I shall render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and that I shall at all times be ready, as a brave soldier, to give my life for this oath.’ This is the oath where soldiers and politicians alike swore their allegiance to Hitler and it happens to be the opening lines of ‘Valkyrie’, a thriller set in 1940’s Nazi Germany in which a proud military man, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is a loyal officer who serves his country all the while hoping that someone will find a way to stop Hitler before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realizing that time is running out, he decides that he must take action himself and joins the German resistance played in the film by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard, and Terence Stamp. These renowned actors play high-ranking Nazis with various levels of access to Hitler, his inner circle and their day-to-day operations. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler's own emergency plan--known as Operation Valkyrie (Unternehmen Walküre )--these men plot to assassinate the dictator and over-throw his Nazi government from the inside. With everything in place, the future of the world, the fate of millions and the lives of his wife and children are hanging in the balance. Stauffenberg is thrust from being one of many who oppose Hitler to the one who must kill Hitler himself.Admittedly I was worried that Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise was playing the leading role of a German colonel, as the first thought that came into my head was ‘Cruise doing a German accent!’. Anybody remember his Irish accent in ‘Far and Away’? Perhaps even worse than Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent in ‘Brave Heart’. However this isn’t the case. At the beginning of the film Cruise dictates a letter he is writing in well accented German which then very smoothly transitions into English through the German fading out and the English fading in with a very natural feel where you still feel he is German though the American accent, and from this point on, the entirety of the film is vocalized in English. A commonly cited grievance with the film is that its outcome is known, due to its historical grounding and it is common knowledge Hitler took his own life and didn’t die at the hands of an assassin or German resistance. However I believe this does not detract from the fine qualities of the film and this fact does not hinder the enjoyment of watching how that attempt by members of his own Nazi command plays out. Valkyrie was directed by Bryan Singer, no rookie to the thriller genre bringing us Academy award winners ‘The Usual Suspects’ and ‘Apt pupil’. Singer’s directional finesse shines here and he manages to create an intense thriller which keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the film, and the command of Singer leads to suspense being built up at almost every twist and turn until the climatic albeit inevitable end. However this thrill ride has its consequences in other aspects of the film, many of the characters feel very under developed with few scenes giving an insight into the characters in question. As a result the film concentrates more on the ‘how’ as opposed to the ‘why’ and the film feeling slightly diluted due to the lack of this fundamental aspect. This leaves the film feeling a little brainless and as though some of the thrills are only there for the point of having thrills.However the film is saved by an incredibly well composed and styled setting, which recreates the era of 1940’s Nazi Germany beautifully and was often shot on location, in some cases where the actual events occurred namely the Bendlerblock (Imperial German Navy Offices). Tom Cruise plays a convincing lead role and manages to portray a man who feels that it his patriotic duty to save his country from the deathly grip of Hitler who was slowly drawing the life from Germany and to shield it from the lunacy Hitler brought it to. The illustrious supporting cast, do their job well and manage to create some sort of basis for their under developed characters and are able to make the characters their own and craft something out of the very little they were given (these cast members in turn save the film from its ill-advised solely thriller route). The bottom line is that this film is an intense thriller, with a well played lead role and an incredible supporting cast, who despite having under developed parts and lacking background make the film compelling and eminently watchable. This coupled with convincing dialogue, the well done settings, the impressive camera work and CGI mean I give this film a solid 7/10
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