I must admit, Valkyrie's release did not excite me all that much. To that end I felt no incredible urge to see it right away, if at all. Still, I stumbled across enough mixed word to give me some hope that I might actually like the film. Unfortunately, as I left the theater, I could not help but think that this is an interesting story but the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. At times it feels way too soap-operatic, more As the Reich Turns and less Kill Hitler. It was a strange experience that could have done more to show that not all Nazis were of the Hitler persuasion. Of course, there have to have been Nazis whose beliefs were considerably different from Hitler's, I just wish there was a little more character behind it.
The movie itself has had quite the journey. Besides the shooting, and the issues that shooting in Germany brought up (the German government did not want to let Cruise shoot there), there was some drama surrounding the release date. The film was originally slated for a summer 2008 release, but the story I heard was that test screenings were awful and the release was moved to February 2009. Then Tropic Thunder came out and Cruise's performance there was funny, well received, and restored some faith in his draw power. This led to the final shift to Christmas Day. Alternatively, I have also heard that reshoots caused the initial delay and a positive screening led to the Christmas push. Interesting in either case, but ultimately it has no impact on the outcome of the film's content, but probably does impact the bottom line.
As for the story, it is based on a true story. I am aware that a number of attempts on Hitler's life took place, but beyond that the details are foreign to me. Valkyrie tells the story of the last (failed, whoops is that a spoiler?) attempt, led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise).
Valkyrie is all plot and no character, plus I felt a little conflicted cheering for someone who was still a Nazi, despite what he was attempting to do. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but I had hoped to get a better look at the man behind the plot, the differences of those people involved, essentially see what made them tick. Unfortunately, the plot kicks off right from the get-go and upon conclusion just stops. All of the necessary points are there to get us through the story, but it lacks any type of personal flavor that would have helped drive it home.
As Valkyrie opens, we meet the Colonel in Tunisia preparing for a battle that will surely cost the lives of most of his men. He is attempting to find a way to get his men home to their families while still alive. No sooner is the plan explained than they are under attack by Allied forces, an attack which cost him his right hand, left eye, and a few assorted fingers. This is the sequence that had me conflicted right from the start. Are we expected to boo the Allies? Cheer the Nazi? I mean, that seems to be what this sequence is doing, getting us to cheer for Cruise's hero.
Anyway, from this point on it is full throttle towards assassinating the Fuhrer. The movie is well made and looks good, but I felt rather distanced from the action. The plot is easy to follow, but it feels as though pieces are missing. Anything that would have served to humanize those involved would have been nice; a couple of scenes with Stauffenberg's wife is about all that we get. I did not find an emotional "in" to the story.
While Bryan Singer's direction is generally effective, I felt abandoned by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander's screenplay. It rushes along, moving pieces around the chessboard, never minding that the human element was lacking. I know, I sound like a broken record, but it is true. It's interesting to see how the pieces move, who likes who, who's trying to influence who, and how close they are to getting caught, but I didn't care.
As for the acting? Oftentimes it feels a bit over the top and overly dramatic. Leading the charge is Tom Cruise, who I have often felt was underrated as an actor. Here he takes the role to the edge and just keeps on going. It is intense, but in an actorly way — he's playing the character rather than being the character. The rest of the cast is similar in their approaches.
Bottom line. In the end we are left with a true-life thriller that moves along at a brisk pace, gets all the major plot points in and nothing else. It looks good, is not exactly boring, nor is it terribly exciting and shares some execution points with soap operas. I hoped for more, but got less.