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'Valkyrie' Takes An Intriguing Look At Historical Event

Simbarashe Simbarashe
December 19th, 2008 12:20am EST
ValkyrieTom Cruise must be the only actor on the planet who can get away with playing any character, at any time, with an American accent. He never really disappears in his roles, not like Daniel Day-Lewis or Jamie Foxx with his portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray"-no matter what he does, you can't help but looking at the screen and simply thinking to yourself, that's Tom Cruise. If that's the worst thing that can be said about a film, it probably stands a fighting chance.

As it turns out, Cruise's refusal to be anyone other than himself proves to be but a slight annoyance in an otherwise terrific film. Director Bryan Singer (of the classic "The Usual Suspects") does a phenomenal job of capturing the tension and urgency brought forth by screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler, and the supporting cast are invested enough to give this film serious Oscar consideration.

So some of you may have heard the story: during World War II, Adolf Hitler was in a briefing room with some of his top men when a bomb exploded. The rest of you can figure out the result: he didn't die. As a matter of fact, Hitler managed to escape with only minor injuries. So how does one go about making a movie about a plot of which the audience already knows will fail? This is where Singer rolls up his sleeves and gets dirty.

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"Valkyrie" makes you feel the anxiety of Cruise's character, Nazi dissenter Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who continues to serve as a German military officer despite losing a hand and an eye in an air strike while on tour in North Africa. Now imagine having the task of rewriting Hitler's very own emergency contingency plan in order to sabotage it, and then having the task of taking the amended document to Hitler himself to convince him to sign off on it, and then having the task of taking a bomb into his notorious Wolf's Lair complex to assassinate him not on one, but TWO separate occasions. The key people in the resistance circle carry grave concerns as the plot unfolds, but von Stauffenberg is determined only at executing the objective, which is vintage Tom Cruise stuff, so it works out. As it seems, one would need superior testicular fortitude to pull this off, and herein lies the irony when things begin to fall apart. Watching the events unfold, and seeing how an operation that relies largely on Hitler's death for a chance at success can still proceed despite the fact that he's not dead is nothing short of ridiculous.

After the screening, I went home and decided to do some research on this operation, and what I found was simply fascinating. What really surprised me was how true to the historical timeline the movie was, and how the little details, as mundane as they were (to get from Berlin to the Wolf's Lair is a three hour plane ride; this is critical information), turned out to be so crucial to the fate of so many people, including Hitler himself. There's a tiny, indiscriminate action that an officer takes with von Stauffenberg's briefcase just before the bomb detonates, and it arguably changes the course of the war, and history.

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And say what you will about Cruise being Cruise, but the man is at least committed to the emotional center of his character. But the real gem here lies with the supporting cast. The politicians and officers who want Hitler dead are genuinely concerned with the delicacy that things must be handled, and von Stauffenberg's supporters are devout in their conviction that he should succeed. It is no surprise then that a monument dedicated to him stands at the Benderlock-"the only monument to a German who served in World War II."

The film's greatest strength is the way it takes advantage of it's behind-the-scenes privy into what the Germans at the top of the food chain were dealing with during the war, and since there are no Westerners to here save the day, it easily makes for an intriguing look at one of the truly underrated events in the history of warfare.


My Grade: B+

Running time: 120 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Adler
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Distributed by United Artists
Release date: December 25, 2008

Simbarashe
Story by Simbarashe

Starpulse contributing writer