There comes a point when a reviewer finds herself having to stifle her prejudices and just get on with the job, and Brian Singer’s latest blockbuster Valkyrie is one such example.
A Hollywood film with English-speaking Nazis starring the couch-jumping nutjob that is Tom Cruise? Oh, the digs that one can aim at this. Scientology and Nazism with a good dose of German campness: comedy gold. However, Valkyrie is not the sham it could have so easily become.
Valkyrie is a movie about the ‘July 20 plot’ of 1944, where Colonel von Stauffenberg and other officers attempt to overthrow Hitler’s regime. Von Stauffenberg cleverly uses Hitler’s own emergency plan to stabilise the government (known as Operation Valkyrie after Wagner’s opera Die Walküre). Operation Valkyrie is readjusted to remove those in power and cripple Hitler’s regime once Hitler has been assassinated by their planned bomb plot.
For anyone with a grasp of historical events, the ending will be familiar: Hitler survives, being saved by a badly-positioned table leg, and the revolutionaries are assassinated. What the movie does is place us in the position of knowing more than the characters: the revolutionaries only find out about Hitler’s survival hours afterwards, by which point Operation Valkyrie is clearly underway. The movie relies on surface thrills rather than intense suspense; we know what’s going to happen, yet the high drama created by Singer’s skillful directing keeps the audience on their toes, even in potentially low-action moments.
There is much to be said in this film’s favour, and the decision that the cast retain their own voices is one of them. The thought of Eddie Izzard and Tom Cruise putting on German accents in the style of The Producers could have turned this already tricky movie into a camp farce. The $75 million dollar budget is apparent in the spectacular visuals: the panoramic views of the Nazi canteen filled with fleeing Nazis is in my mind a great piece of cinematography. However, where Valkyrie benefits fro
m high-budget screen shots, it loses out on challenging film-making.
The main characters are cosy household names – Kenneth Brannagh, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard must be the cuddliest collection of violent German officers ever. One cannot help but wonder what the Germans would have done with the film. Mark Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl: The Last Days and Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, are conversely both challenging and dynamic takes on resistance to Nazis. Valkyrie is a brave film concept which has finally chickened out when it comes to challenging film-making.
It is very easy for one to lapse into metaphysical bullying when the victim seems to have all the wrong characteristics – casting Tom Cruise as Colonel von Staffenberg has been compared by some journalists to ‘casting Judas as Jesus’.
Yet Cruise, for all his eccentricities and obvious flaws, is the Everyman, and there is an audience appeal in his imperfections. This actually works because the main question Valkyrie is asking of the audience is how they would react if in a position of power under a totalitarian regime. However, a vague sense of moral inadequacy is not much of a takeaway from a film. Valkyrie falls short because it scratches the surface, but fails to leave a mark.
Release: 23rd January
Director: Bryan Singer
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard