Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I normally review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. Today there is a slight deviation. I have the unique pleasure of reviewing a movie before its release. I won’t follow the usual format, but still feel free to angrily disagree.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSy96KB7Dh4
It’s a tricky thing to generate suspense when a story has a foregone conclusion. Bryan Singer, the director of the new WW2 thriller Valkyrie, knows this. I’m pretty sure that Tom Cruise, the movie’s star, know this. Everyone does their best, but we all know that Cruise’s character, a German military officer, fails to kill Hitler. There is no suspense. Despite all its polish, the movie is amounts to little more than a tedious exercise.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) seriously dislikes the Chancellor of Germany. While serving his country in northern Africa, Stauffenberg is hurt in the line of duty, losing his left hand and two fingers on his right hand. Sure, he hates Adolf before the attack, but after Allied warplanes fuck up his shit, he gets fucking pissed. At his new job in Berlin, Stauffenberg finds like-minded German officers who want to kill Hitler. Admittedly, their plan is pretty clever. They intend to blow Hitler to smithereens, and use a secret army intended to secure Berlin, called Valkyrie, as a means to arrest the SS. Because of dumb luck, Stauffenberg fucks up big time, yet somehow believes that he can still save the German people from their leader.
A huge problem with Valkyrie are the accents. Except for the introduction, Cruise sounds like an American. All his accomplices sound English. The only character who actually sounds German is Hitler himself, which implicitly suggests that those who sound German are unfathomably evil. The bigger problem, however, is that because the audience walks in knowing what happens, the story is not interesting. There are some Hitchockian moments in which unexpected situations complicate the mission, but they are perfunctory. We know Hitler will survive, and that the conspirators will not. Other WW2 movies had character development, which forced the audience to care about a characters’ fate. Valkyrie has absolutely no character development. All we learn about these men is that they hate Hitler, and will continue on their mission even if failure is absolutely certain. At one point, Cruise encounters a younger German officer, and without blinking an eye, asks this young man to commit high treason. The younger officer accepts, and we learn nothing else about him. Such scenes are designed, I think, to show how passionate these Germans were. Yet we are never made to understand why they felt their mission was so necessary.
Valkyrie does not care about the atrocities of World War 2. It does care about that an entire nation could adopt a viewpoint that’s fundamentally wrong. Hitler’s horrors are brought up briefly in the opening monologue, and are never considered again. Valkyrie instead presupposes that Hitler’s assassination is a near-impossible undertaking, and that these men deserve special distinction. I think an argument could be made that these would-be assassins were simply egotistical and foolhardy. This movie made me laugh unintentionally on multiple occasions. Sure, the direction is polished, but the basic premise of the movie is fundamentally flawed. More importantly, Tom Cruise is far too controversial to play a character who requires instinctive sympathy from the audience.
If you want a truly chilling movie about Hitler’s final days, rent Downfall instead. It argues that Nazis were not monsters but human, which makes their actions far more terrifying. Learning about this moment in history could force even the most optimistic person to reconsider their faith in humanity. But Valkyrie never supplies the audience the crisis of conscience that its characters felt. I never believed any of it.