by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
BLURAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Tom Cruise as CLAUS VON STAUFFENBERG
Kenneth Branagh as HENNIGN VON TRESCKOW
Bill Nighy as FRIEDRICH OLBRICHT
Tom Wilkinson as FRIEDRICH FROMM
Carice van Houten as NINA VON STAUFFENBERG
Thomas Kretschmann as OTTO ERNST REMER
Terence Stamp as LUDWIG BECK
Eddie Izzard as ERICH FELLGIEBEL
Directed by: Bryan Singer
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In the waning days of World War II, some Germans high in the Nazi ranks became increasingly despondent about Adolf Hitler’s direction with the war. Several attempts were made on Hitler’s life, and one of the deepest assassination plots was led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). Using a network of anti-Hitler military personnel, von Stauffenberg led a historic attempt to kill Hitler and seize control of the German military and government.
WHAT I LIKED
I will admit that I was skeptical about “Valkyrie” when it was originally released for many reasons. First, there was the shifting release date, which is rarely a good sign for a film. Then there was the Christmas Day release that was finally settled upon, which put it up against four or five other World War II films, an odd assortment for what many consider to be a family-friendly block on the release schedule. Finally, there was the whole accent thing, which was clear from the trailers. More on the accents below, but let’s start elsewhere.
When I originally saw “Valkyrie” in theaters, I had a lukewarm response. It wasn’t director Bryan Singer’s best film, but I will say that I was impressed with the power and drama of the film. Of course, anyone who knows their history is aware of the fact that Hitler was not assassinated, so part of this film was predictable. However, especially upon a second look, I appreciated the tense and suspenseful way the film plays out. You may know the final result, but it is intriguing to watch how things unfold. And in some way, knowing that the assassination plot was a failure makes the characters that much more heroic.
Revisiting the movie at home provides a better context. As a tentpole holiday release, the movie only worked about half-way. While the production value is right up there with other big Hollywood films, this movie is much more impressive in the home setting, where the rest of your World War II diet comes from grainy films on The History Channel.
For the most part, and all accents aside, the acting is quite impressive. Sure, Tom Cruise comes across as Tom Cruise and doesn’t really disappear into the role, but his supporting cast is brilliant. Even the smaller roles, which can be seen with the other conspirators, are well delivered.
Although “Valkyrie” is not an action piece, there are plenty of big action moments. The film begins with von Stauffenberg in the African campaign and has a contained but exhilarating battle sequence. But the action is traded for suspense in the movie, which is when things really click.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
As a historical film, “Valkyrie” works only half-way. The creative framing of the picture is well constructed, but the lack of German accents by the actors makes this movie look more like a big budget BBC production.
Another World War II film that was released concurrently with “Valkyrie” was “Defiance,” which had similar themes and production values. However, “Defiance” had a level of authenticity that “Valkyrie” lacked because the characters actually sounded like they grew up in the right country. (Sure, they all speak English in both films, but the accents are part of the necessary illusion of filmmaking.)
According to reports, the non-German actors experimented with German accents, but director Bryan Singer decided to forgo them for a more timeless feel of the film. I can’t say this was because Tom Cruise couldn’t master the accent, but it did get distracting for von Stauffenberg to sound like he just walked off the streets of Syracuse.
As a big-budget studio picture, “Valkyrie” is worth experiencing in high definition, both for its image and its powerful sound design. The Blu-ray also comes with a meaty assortment of special features, including a second disc of the film for digital copy purposes.
On the Blu-ray disc are two audio commentaries. One features Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie. The second commentary features McQuarrie again with his writing partner Nathan Alexander.
Five featurettes focus on various aspects of the production. “The Journey to Valkyrie” reveals how the original story was discovered and developed by writer Christopher McQuarrie. “The Road to Resistance” features a look at the resistance fighters in the Nazi party. “The African Front Sequence” looks at the opening battle in Africa. “Taking to the Air” talks about how real vintage planes were used in the film. And “Recreating Berlin” shows how the production used the modern city of Berlin as a backdrop for the historical piece, including real locations where the story took place.
Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer are spotlighted in a 40-minute featurette called “Reel Pieces” that was recorded at New York’s 92nd Street Y. Cruise and Singer are interviewed by a woman who actually puts James Lipton to shame in the art of sucking up, but the video does offer some new insights into the picture.
Finally, the best part of the Blu-ray is a feature-length documentary called “The Valkyrie Legacy.” This educational film provides a comprehensive look at the film and the history behind it. “The Valkyrie Legacy” begins with the history of Germany leading up to the war, which explains how Hitler rose to power. It continues with the story of the resistance movement and eventually leads into the production of the film. In some ways, “The Valkyrie Legacy” was more enjoyable and informative than the film itself.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Tom Cruise fans and World War II buffs.