(2008) dir. Bryan Singer
Valkyrie is a film based on real events in World War II, when German military officers attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and stage a coup to stop the Nazi regime and end the war. It stars Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of the plan and national hero who helps to demonstrate that not all German’s were behind the Holocaust, that some tried to heroically bring down the monstrous evils that were perpetrated under Hitler’s leadership. Cruise apparently got interested in playing Stauffenberg because he saw a picture and thought he looked a lot like him. Deep thinking there.
World War II has been approached so many, many times in film, telling stories, the many, many stories that emanate from probably the most significant event of the 20th Century. And effecting so many people and so dramatically, of course, there are lots of stories to tell and many of them are compelling. I discount that fact not at all. But I do have to say that to make another WWII film, you really have to have something to say. The story can convey itself, document, enlighten, but unless it has something bigger or the story itself is so significant, you really have to want to tell something, or perhaps you should want to tell something bigger.
Director Bryan Singer is one of the younger directors in Hollywood who still carries a lot of cachet and whose work is often worth looking at. But really, this emanates primarilly from his first film, The Usual Suspects (1995) which I haven’t seen since it came out, even though it’s such a cult film and common cultural reference point. His later work on the X-men franchise, X-men (2000) and X2 (2003), helped move him along, while not making great art, he managed to make popular action films. But he wasn’t so lucky with Superman Returns (2006). The bottom line, I think, is that his work is not all that great, not bad necessarily, but just not all that great.
Valkyrie is a decent film. I am not a fan of Cruise, and he’s okay here, mostly stiff and dignified, but I think he gets a lot of abuse for his beliefs in Scientology. In fact, there was a lot of controversy in Germany in his casting because of the German government’s perception of Scientology as something totalitarian or something. I think Scientology is idiocy too, but anyways.
One of the other really weird thing in the film is language. Everybody is pretty much German, right? But most of them are notable English actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and heck even Eddie Izzard. And of course, our all-American Cruise. And everybody speaks in their own natural accent. But the film starts with its title in German “Walküre”, then morphing into the English “Valkyrie.” And then Cruise starts speaking in voiceover in German, as he is writing in his diary, which them morphs over to English, too. I think, like a lot of people, while logical to an extent to have people act without doing really bad German accents, it draws a lot of attention to the language. And I think it’s kinda weird.
Why this film then? I mean it’s a noble story, worth knowing, worth telling. But why exactly? Because you look like the dude? The hero? And Singer, who worked with another Nazi-related story in Apt Pupil (1998), perhaps has some interest with more depth, but really, the moment when we first see Hitler, he’s totally like Satan, shot from the back, sitting in a chair wtih his hand resting on the head of a dangerous-looking German shepherd. He’s evil incarnate. I get it. History has judged him and he’s one of the worst people in modern times.
Other moments with Hitler suggest little of his character, angry, but vaguely intellectual. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being particular. The film is fine, not thrilling or spectacular, a little weird perhaps with the aforementioned language thing. It is an interesting and noble story, but perhaps a documentary would be more informative.