The Valkyrie (Movie) Review: Tom Cruise and Nazis for Christmas
The story with Valkyrie, the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, isn’t so much about the film itself as with the scheduling of the film. Valkyrie is set to open on Christmas. Really, what could be more heartwarming a movie to watch at Christmas than a movie about killing Hitler? Perhaps a movie about trying to kill Hitler, failing, and having the Nazis win as the end credits roll. Stick that one on the ‘ole yule log.
OK, that’s an oversimplification of the film. The film is supposed to be more about standing up against something you know is wrong. Had the film been released in the summer, it would likely have been marketed (at least to Blue States) as a metaphor for the war in Iraq. And this would have hacked off the Red States and there’d be all kinds of buzz. Alas, the country’s mood seems to have take a swing for the optimistic after the elections and the film was pushed back to Christmas, so instead of being a political dialogue, it’s the holiday Nazi movie and the marketing is about what a thriller it is (not unless you’re woefully ignorant of history) and that Tom Cruise is in it.
As to the film itself, while it isn’t a bad film, it came off as a bit flat. Simply put, it isn’t the best work of anyone involved with it and some of the quirks are a little odd. Take the accents, for instance. Valkyrie starts off in German and then switches to English, with the actors speaking in their more or less normal voices. That’s a standard film convention. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Except that pretty much all the main actors except for Tom Cruise are British. Cruise being practically the only American accent when he’s supposed to be the same nationality as everyone else is a little out of place, and some will find it distracting.
The real problem with the film is that everyone already knows the basic plot points. In the greater scheme of things, World War II wasn’t all that long ago. It’s fairly well covered in most high school history classes and Valkyrie, the most famous of the several assassination attempts on Hitler, is usually covered. So what you end up with is a thriller, where you already know the main plot twist: Hitler didn’t die in the explosion.
Valkyrie is filmed as a political thriller with a couple explosions in it, not as an action film, so you don’t really have shoot-outs and chases to carry you through what you’ve already anticipated. Part of the thrill of a heist/caper movie is waiting to see if anything goes wrong and whether they get caught. In Valkyrie, you know they’re going to get caught before you sit down in the theater. (At least if you didn’t know enough history to realize Germany didn’t surrender to the allied powers after a military coup, I sure wouldn’t admit it in public.) All you’re doing is waiting for the bottom to fall out from the plan and for the Hitler loyalists to come for them. That’s not a thriller, per se.
What could’ve elevated Valkyrie was a little more examination of the how’s and why’s that Germans were objecting to Hitler. How they came to their realization that he was a nutbar and how he’d been elected in the first place. Why some people were still drinking the Kool-Aid. In the opening sequence, Cruise touches on this briefly, writing in his diary. Later, he disparages the politicians for wanting to kill Hitler as much to further their careers as anything else. Past that, it isn’t touched on in much greater detail than that what Hitler was doing was wrong and that the world should know not all Germans backed him, instead opting for a faster paced, thriller motif.
You could fall back on the argument that the theme of sacrificing for the greater good trumps the underplaying of philosophy. In terms of watching the film, yes, Cruise does say he doesn’t mind sacrificing his life if it will make a difference. Except that whole philosophy is wrapped up in a failed plot and the film is shot as a thriller/caper gone sour, not as a noble suicide mission building to the sacrifice. The approach seems flawed.
As it stands, Valkyrie is a watchable, if a bit flat film. Cruise is particularly flat in his no-nonsense role. A supporting cast of British acting royalty, is solid, if not particularly colorful. The combination of knowing the plot twist and opting for the thriller narrative without a more developed philosophical underpinning just doesn’t make for compelling movie. Kill an afternoon on cable? Sure. $10 ($12?) in a theater on a Friday night? I’ll pass.