Welcome to the movie review for Valkyrie, a film that has had more ups and downs than any other in recent memory. The movie stars lightning bolt Tom Cruise as a Nazi considered to be a German hero for attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler but who, for convenience's sake, has an American accent. Since Scientology is considered a cult in Germany, the country almost refused Cruise the ability to play the role. Furthermore, rumors ran wild after Valkyrie was pushed back from awards season to early 2009, essentially revealing that the movie wasn't going to be an awards contender. Facing that public outcry, the movie was subsequently returned to its original release date, which happens to be the perfect time to tell a Nazi story... As Tom Cruise put it himself: "Kill Adolf Hitler on Christmas!"
Valkyrie had a few things going against it, the ongoing prejudice against Tom Cruise being first and foremost. Ever since Cruise became involved in the project, critics and fans have been clambering to make fun of the man for wearing an eye patch, for not using a German accent or simply for being crazy Tom Cruise. The sad thing is, Cruise is actually a pretty good actor and tends to choose quality movies rather consistently, more than can be said for a lot of people. His star power has certainly diminished, though the $30 million take over the Christmas weekend confirmed that he's not done yet.
So why did Valkyrie not flop? There are several reasons. The director is Bryan Singer, who has great clout after making such films as X-Men 2 and The Usual Suspects. He knows how to make thrilling films, and Valkyrie is first and foremost a suspense thriller. Secondly, while Tom Cruise has an American accent, all of his co-stars have a variety of accents, practically none of them German. Thus, Cruise doesn't stand out like a sore thumb like many people would have liked. Lastly, Valkyrie is pretty entertaining.
The movie succeeds, strangely enough, because you know how it's going to end. Hopefully everyone who went to go see this movie knows that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker, and was not assassinated by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) as part of a plot to overthrow Nazi Germany on a single day. So, you know it's going to end badly for the good guys; Hitler, as I understand it, was not the most forgiving of guys. Thankfully, few people in attendance know exactly how Stauffenberg and Operation Valkyrie failed, and Singer is able to twist this lack of knowledge into a smart, suspenseful thriller of a tragedy. You know what's coming, but you don't know when, or how.
I had been worried that Valkyrie would end up being a talky bore, considering that I had never heard of such a major assassination attempt on Hitler before. Luckily, Stauffenberg gets much farther in terms of the attempt and coup than most people would expect, and this makes for a mesmerizing second half as we get to watch the pieces fall into place... and then crumble just as quickly as they came. It's also sad, to think that had one little moment been just a tad more effective, the entire last year of the war could have gone quite differently.
Frankly, though, the movie's Oscar's chances were sealed when Singer allowed his actors to use non-German accents. In this day and age, movies need to be more authentic than ever, and watching Cruise or Kenneth Branagh or Bill Nighy or Tom Wilkinson or Terence Stamp strutting around as Nazis just doesn't work to the level modern audiences expect. That being said, there are no disastrous performances, only bad decisions. Singer has assembled a good cast, Cruise among them; and also, had Cruise used a German accent, audiences probably would have crucified him the way they crucified Harrison Ford for portraying a Russian in K-19: The Widowmaker.
Valkyrie looks and feels like a suspense thriller, and therefore it is. It is not an Oscar-worthy drama and from the beginning, United Artists should have never treated it as such. The movie would have been better as a German film, of course, but Singer has successfully created another exciting, suspenseful movie. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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