Tom Cruise is no stranger to battling evil on screen. He’s taken on angry aliens, a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer, vampires and even Jack Nicholson as an out of control army colonel. He’s back in uniform for his new film Valkyrie battling the greatest villain of the twentieth century—Adolph Hitler. He’s Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, based on a real life Nazi who tried to kill the Führer.
The film is based on the failed July 20, 1944 coup in which Nazi officers tried to not only kill Hitler but also take control of the government and end the war. Cruise plays one of the ringleaders, a war hero who has become disillusioned with Hitler. “I’m a soldier,” he says, “but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.” He concocts a plan to kill Hitler and simultaneously put Operation Valkyrie—an emergency plan to maintain law and order—into effect. Of course, this is a military operation and there is always a risk of failure.
There has been a lot of negative buzz on the internet about Valkyrie. Before seeing the film bloggers suggested Tom Cruise wasn’t the right guy for the part and later when the release date was shifted a couple of times they cried that the movie must be bad otherwise why would the studio toy with the release schedule. I don’t usually give bloggers much credit, but this time I have to admit they got it mostly right.
Cruise isn’t the right guy to play Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, but the movie isn’t the disaster that has been reported.
Director Bryan Singer tries to build suspense throughout the film, but is thwarted by history—we all know how the story ends, and it doesn’t end well for the good guys. So essentially he’s making a movie about a hero, but one whose legacy is failure. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and while von Stauffenberg’s objectives were entirely noble he ended up getting himself and his co-conspirators killed while his beloved Germany swirled down the drain.
Flawed losers can make compelling stories but this is a Tom Cruise movie and there is no such thing as a flawed Cruise character. From the opening moments of the film von Stauffenberg is anointed as a savior. Singer subtly downplays the Colonel’s Nazi background—he doesn’t wear Nazi medals, only half heartedly Sieg Heils—and paints him as a man of extremely high moral principles. In other words he’s a standard issue Tom Cruise hero who could easily be renamed Saint von Stauffenberg. In case you miss his anointment one character actually says to him, “God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.” A flaw or two may have made the character a bit more interesting and a bit less of a caricature.
Singer does introduce some nice cinematic touches, like a bomb blast that rocks a phonograph needle to a record playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and a shot of an SS soldier burning a fly with his cigarette rather than swatting it. Good visual images both, but after an exciting opening sequence Valkyrie becomes a talky account of a complicated plan to overthrow Hitler’s government. It’s all talk and very little action. Even the failed bombing meant to kill Hitler is little more than a puff of smoke and some splintered wood. This should have been the turning point of the film, but it’s very anticlimactic.
Valkyrie wants to be an important movie but doesn’t have the gravitas, and it isn’t action packed enough to be a great war movie. It falls somewhere between. It isn’t a success, but it isn’t embarrassing, just forgettable.