Written by Caballero Oscuro
It’s difficult to judge Valkyrie entirely on its own merits due to the back story of the top talent involved in its creation, namely director Bryan Singer and star Tom Cruise. Singer was coming off the lackluster reception of his previous effort, Superman Returns, while Cruise has been more notable for bizarre behavior than any tangible box-office respect in the past few years. As something of a comeback vehicle for both of them, it seemed like a smart move, tackling a deadly serious drama in the hopes of reconnecting with their previous critical success in films such as Singer’s The Usual Suspects and Cruise’s Collateral. Even the film’s story seemed like a winner, examining an ill-fated assassination effort against Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, the resulting film fails to deliver, offering glimpses of potential but nothing that materializes into a meaningful final product.
Cruise plays a German rebel bearing the unwieldy name of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a disaffected member of Hitler’s forces who ultimately comes to believe that the country would be far better off without Hitler in control. After hooking up with other rebels at various levels in the chain of command, he leads a daring mission with two objectives: to hopefully assassinate Hitler, and definitely seize control of the country by executing one of Hitler’s own security protocols codenamed “Valkyrie.” Since we already know how well that turns out for them, the film predictably lacks a certain amount of tension, but its plodding execution robs it of the rest.
The filmmakers made some unfortunate choices that detract from the film’s power. First, the actors are almost entirely British and American, so it’s never quite convincing to accept the characters as German. Sure, it wouldn’t make much sense to have them deliver their lines in German, and German actors would detract from the box-office potential, but it just doesn’t work in its current form. Second, and even more distracting, is the matter of Stauffenberg’s fake eye. You see, he loses an eye in battle at the beginning of the film, so for the rest of its length we’re treated to either Cruise in an eyepatch or Cruise with a fake eye that looks far more unreal than a fake eye. Singer even calls attention to it with a couple of close-ups, but the fake effect is more creepily unrealistic than just plain creepy, taking viewers right out of the film every time it pops up.
Cruise is a fine, dedicated actor, but he and Singer never seem to get a handle on this character, moping through with a one-note performance that doesn’t give Cruise any opportunity for his usual penchant for big dramatic moments. He’s sullen, morose, and barely able to generate any viewer empathy in what should have been a slam-dunk role. Maybe he was distracted by the fake eye, maybe he and Singer were intending to portray the character’s singular, unflinching dedication to his quest at the expense of any other emotion, but the end result left this viewer barely able to root for him. Against Hitler!
Valkyrie is available on DVD, Two-Disc Special Edition with Digital Copy, and Blu-ray on May 19th. The Two-Disc Special Edition includes a brief behind-the-scenes featurette, an in-depth look at historical footage in "The Valkyrie Legacy", as well as commentary tracks by Cruise, Singer, and script writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander.