Valkyrie movie poster

Written by: Nathan Alexander & Christopher McQuarrie
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp

My Advice: Matinee.

It's 1943 and let's just say that not everybody in Germany is 100% behind the Fuhrer (a respectable David Bamber who is not as convincing as Bruno Ganz--but really, who would be?). In fact, there are those who are planning behind closed doors to take out Hitler and try to wake Germany up from its nightmare. One of them is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), who has been trying to find a general who will get involved with this treason. After being wounded in Africa (this is sort of already covered in the trailer), he finds himself back in Berlin and in the sights of a movement aligned with his own idea: that Hitler has to be stopped for the sake of Germany.

The problem with this film even more than most historical films is that--again, no spoilers here--the characters fail. We know going into the film that they fail. The only people who are going to be in suspense over this fact are probably products of the same sort of school system I came out of. The films in this vein that work are the ones who can make you care, even though you know the struggle is futile. And in this case, it's the fact that you want these people to succeed against the great evil that was Hitler--and that wanting drives the interest in the film. And the film also gets points for keeping the characters human. Not everybody was in this For the Good of Germany. Some just wanted to anticipate what the winners' side was and get on it. Some were making power plays. The moral ambiguity of the people involved makes it all the more real.

The much maligned Cruise carries himself well in the film. Granted, some people will give him shit, no doubt, for not having a German accent or not matching his accent with his mostly Brit cast. But I figure when you use a variation of the same language transition effect that let Connery get away with being Russian in Hunt for Red October, you can play fast and loose with the accents. And let me put it to you another way: I was never bored enough to start picking at that particular nit. The film was just too taut for that. Anyway, back to Cruise: I've always liked Cruise when he's acting. Leave his wacky personal life out of it: on screen, I think he is solid. I believe him when he talks about the stakes of what's going on and I believe him when he starts putting his plan into motion. Then there's the supporting cast: Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard...just a hellacious group of actors. There's not a weak performance in the group, in my opinion.

If there's anything that could have been improved--it's perhaps the introduction of our characters. I can see why they set things up they way they did--and for all I know it was totally accurate in the way it was portrayed--but we're sort of thrust into the story, but can catch up very quickly. The film packs a lot of suspense into two hours--especially worthwhile because it's suspense where we know the outcome. About the only way you could improve upon it is doing a miniseries--and I think a series about the attempts to take down Hitler from inside Germany might be a fascinating watch. I don't think this film will lose anything on the small screen, but I think it's worth catching at the matinee if you can get a decent price on a ticket.