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The latest entry into 2008’s cinematic look back at World War II, Valkyrie highlights the little-known story of a cabal of German SS officers and politicians who attempted a coup to bring down Adolf Hitler and take over the government, bringing peace and sanity back to their country.

With its A-1 cast including a Hollywood heavyweight, British character dependables and helmed an innovative director, how could Valkyrie wind up so flat and listless?  The tabloid readers in the house might first regard Tom Cruise as being at fault, but this would be a serious injustice.  Cruise is more than fine in his role as Claus von Stauffenberg, a soldier who gave more than his share on behalf of the megalomaniacal ideals of Hitler and his Aryan-loving cronies.  In a past-is-prologue turn of events, this officer who fought for the enrichment of his country and the protection of his loved ones feels betrayed by the outrageous agenda of Hitler and the National Socialist party.  This whole business with the concentration camps and mythology of the Master Race simply wasn’t what he signed up for.  This discontent leads Stauffenberg to resign himself to the life of a traitor in the hopes of a return to the Germany he loves and believes could still be respected by the rest of the world.  Lieutenant Stauffenberg embroils himself in the fearful and faithless strategies of others in the political and military strata who oppose Hitler, and becomes the Decider in a small faction of little dogs with great big barks.  Risk and failure around every corner, Stauffenberg bravely proceeds with his mission as if it were another wartime campaign he simply has to win.

Is it the feeling of overwrought tension that permeates every scene, even down to the score that portents an ominous event every 10 seconds (- Has the music supervisor never heard of the Boy Who Cried Wolf {’s Lair}?)  Is it the odd line readings that pronounce the film’s wry humour dead on arrival?  There’s never a sense of dramatic rise and fall; the tone of the film from start to finish is one of tense presage and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It amazed me that a script, based on real-life events, that should have been so thrilling could be rendered so lacklustre.  Valkyrie’s saving grace its fine performances; Cruise, Kenneth Branagh,Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp (!),  Eddie Izzard (?!),  and Tom Hollander all try their best to inject a spark of life to the proceedings, with Thomas Kretschmann’s harried SS Commander coming closest to bringing the dark levity so desperately needed; but even the most charismatic cameos can’t make up for the unfortunate pacing and tone of the film.  Perhaps some of the lack of involvement with the characters’ peril is derived from already knowing the outcome.  We know when Hitler dies, so we can surmise from the start how this is gonna turn out.  Even so, besides the initial understanding of Lt. Stauffenberg’s disappointment with the Nazi regime and a brief insert of family time, there isn’t much to humanise him and the film becomes a study in waiting for the inevitable.

Such a shame, Stauffenberg’s courageous story is an important one to be heard.  Valkyrie is evidence that not every German was fighting on behalf of that jumped-up Austrian housepainter’s twisted demagoguery.  It’s important not only in this age of Holocaust-related trendiness in Hollywood (-The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Defiance), but also for the entire world who might be reached queuing up for a film featuring with Cruise’s name over the title to know that not every German was in lockstep with that insane man and his unspeakable agenda.

Not a terrible film by any stretch; the opening sequences of Stauffenberg in the Panzer Division in North Africa are ear-bleedingly bombastic.  The look of the film is appropriately stoic and gloomy, the production design reminiscent of 2004’s excellent bunker drama, Downfall.  We’re shown incredible replicas of the Hollywood-perfect SS uniforms and stark, washed out gray and sepia exteriors interrupted with rude shocks of crimson from Nazi flags.  Still, Valkyrie is simply less than one would have hoped for in a story so rich with dramatic promise.  Had Bryan Singer spent his tension shekels wisely instead of blowing them at every possible opportunity, this might have been a very different review.  As it stands, Valkyrie is not a loss, mostly due to the strength of Cruise’s interpretation of the heroic Stauffenberg and the dream cast behind him, but it’s not the scintillating wartime thriller it should have been, either.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 22nd, 2008





© 2006-2008 The Diva Review.com



(Courtesy of 

United Artists/ MGM)




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