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How Do You Polish a Dimming Star? Just Add Hitler! Reviewing Valkyrie

Written by: Joseph Randazzo, Special to CC2K


Image Now, I’m not in the movie making business, so I can’t be sure how agents pitch to movies stars. But I think that the pitch for Valkyrie must have gone something like this:

Dear Tom Cruise,

What’s that you say? You have an image problem? People think you are crazy spouting off fanatical beliefs that border on cultish? Well my friend I have a solution for you.

Nazi-ism.

Wait, wait I know what you’re thinking. The Nazi’s have a bad image.

Well friend that’s where you come in. We want to bank on how much people used to like you when you played such fun-loving and vaguely homoerotic roles in films like Top Gun and Jerry Maguire. That’s why we want you to play a good Nazi.

You know, the kind of Nazi that you feel bad about hating with a passion that burns a thousand suns. The kind you don’t root for Lee Marvin to drop gasoline and grenades on. That kind.

What do you say? Wait… where you going?”

 

Then I guess they plied him with candy or something because he did it. And you know what? It kind of works. Sort of.

Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, fresh off his under-performing movie about staring and longing Superman Returns, directs this historical drama about the true plot to kill Hitler by troops within his own army.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work. Hitler makes it.  Also, if you didn’t know that, you need to read more.

And that’s part of the real challenge here. How do you make a movie where everyone knows exactly what is going to happen at the end? How do you build suspense when the outcome is predetermined? How do you do so without Leonardo DiCaprio and Billy Zane shooting through the hallways?

Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a one eyed, one handed Nazi who lost his digits in an impressive; yet quick battle sequence. After he recovers he agrees to help try and overthrow Hitler. His reasons for this are noble and solid, but the overall conspirators’ motives are a bit lost. It seems they were already set on the big sleep for Hitler and the movie does not spend too much delving into their reasons.  

This is a shame because they almost seem to be doing a power grab, rather than an overthrow of a tyrant. Little is mentioned of the moral or ethical reasons for this, which for a movie that’s tagline is: “Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.” was a bit of a letdown. I have no doubts that these may have been some honorable men doing the right thing, but let us see why, rather then just letting the audience use their basic knowledge and the occasional rhetoric about serving the good of Germany to move the plot.

They ratchet up the tension in the planning with the standard “That wasn’t supposed to happen!” techniques, but it doesn’t seem overly plotted. Once the bomb goes off, Cruise goes into high gear and the movie’s pacing follows. Guards are mobilized and a there is a very angry Hitler to deal with.  

This isn’t an action movie, though there are a few explosions and gun battles, and the X-men director handles them deftly. They do a good job of pacing, the movie never drags and you don’t look at your watch to see how long you have until the thing ends (looking at you, Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

As Nick Fury – sorry, Colonel Claus – Cruise’s performance is standard-to-good. Now that doesn’t sound like high praise and for a normal actor, it wouldn’t be. But let’s face facts: the man is polarizing. I don’t love him as a celebrity, but I do think he can act and I have enjoyed some of his movies. (Check out MI: 3, even if he is upstaged by the villain.)

The supporting cast includes Eddie Izzard, Terrence (kneel before Zod!) Stamp, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, as well as two small yet effective female roles in the heavily masculine and British cast.  The supporting cast does their job well, putting in a quality performance, yet never overshadowing or overbearing the star that is Cruise. (And does the guy who play Hitler ever get any other work? I mean that’s a really specialized skill.)

What this all amounts to is a pretty standard History Channel reenactment of the events that preceded and followed the attempted assassination. It’s a good story and a decent movie, but it lacks soul. 

Rent it, don’t rush it.

Author: Joseph Randazzo, Special to CC2K

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