This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Hitler, then. History has, by this point, recorded fairly definitive views on the man, and they are not entirely positive. It would not do, however, to assume that all Germans of the time shared quite the same level of batshit crazy as their Fuhrer. Although they did vote him in, so I guess it’s reasonable to assume that most of them did. At any rate, one chap who cottoned on to the fairly obvious notion that there’s something a little fishy about this Adolf fella is Claus Von Stauffenberg, here played by the tiny, tiny frame of noted batshit insane scientology merchant Tom Cruise.
Returning to Berlin after service in the North African frontlines, leaving an eye, a hand and a few fingers off the other hand behind thanks to the actions of ‘our boys’, by which for once I am not referring to my testicles, he joins the small, clandestine resistance committee attempting to overthrown the Nazis. Having not exactly met with stellar success so far, and with the ever present threat of the SS breathing down their necks, it’s eventually left up to Von Staffenberg to come up with a plan of action.
The eventual plan is both audacious and cunning, but not in the Baldrick sense. Craftily re-writing one of Hitler’s own plans to be used in the event of his death or overthrow to order the German reserve army to round up the SS and enable a less batshit government to seize power, all that remains is for someone to put that Hitler chap out of our misery.
Now, it’s something of a matter of historical record that this plan didn’t exactly pan out, blind chance throwing the conspirator’s best laid plans agley. The bomb intended to ruin Adolf’s shit comes up a little short in the lethality front, leaving a fairly substantial loose end unaccounted for that when pulled causes the plan to unravel and fail, leading to those responsible being shot to bits.
I’d apologise for ruining the ending, but then as I say it is something of a matter of historical record. Which, you’d think, would be something of a pain in the arse for a film that’s in large part being sold as a thriller. How will it end? Who can say? Everyone? Oh.
Given the above, it’s remarkable that Valkyrie manages to hold any interest at all, for anyone, let alone be so effective a pot-boiler as it actually is. With a conspiracy plot doomed from the outset it’s surprising that any tension at all can be built, yet build it does. There is perhaps an element of not knowing the exact why’s and wherefore’s of the plots ultimate failure that opens a path of mystery that the film is allowed to gallop down. Well scripted and tightly focussed, all credit must go to the chaps both behind of and in from of the camera.
Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (see also the excellent The Usual Suspects and Way of the Gun) speaks of a latent desire from un-named quarters of the internet to see this project fall on its arse. Of course, the same can be said of any project in any endeavour, as little else has democratised idiocy more than the internet. However, before taking my seat in the cinema there was something about this project that made me feel somewhat uneasy about it, completely incorrectly, as it turns out. I suppose it’s the cast list, in particular the number of English people flouncing around playing German people. Of course, the project wouldn’t exist had it been shot in German, but there’s something about the logic train of “We need someone to play a German… Eddie Izzard! Of course!” that just seems offensive. We have, at least, been spared the parade of dodgy accents that usually besiege us in such films.
The casting does, at least, mean that there’s a massive amount of talent knocking around. The supporting roles, sporting the likes of Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp provide a solid base for the plotting and intrigue, but the real plaudits have to go to Tom Cruise. Personal life aside, it’s displays like this that remind us of why he’s climbed high enough to gain the sort of exposure that makes his couch-jumping antics so YouTubeable. Intense, charismatic, sympathetic and compelling, it’s a good character played well, and helps greatly to carry a story where the ending is so inevitable.
This is, of course, helped along by Bryan Singer’s great direction and pacing. Indeed, there’s not a great deal to dislike about Valkyrie, as best as I can see. It’s not redefining any conventions of cinema or providing a staggering work of heartbreaking genius, but as a purely enjoyable yarn it’s definitely in the top percentiles.