Bryan Singer's Valkyrie Review - This Year's Best WWII Film
by Alex Billington
December 12, 2008
There is something that I just love about Bryan Singer's directing - his production values are incredible, but they're never overdone like with Michael Bay, and his editing is always very tight-knit yet well-paced enough to let the story build with finesse. Combine all of that with one of my favorite genres and settings, World War II, and you've got Valkyrie, a film that I optimistically went into and walked out loving. It may not be exactly be flawless, but it's already high up on the list of my favorite WWII films, and that's admittedly a very hard list to get on to. The cast may be the weakest link in the end, but Valkyrie literally had my heart racing from start to finish, even though I already knew what that outcome would be.
At the height of WWII, a group of high-ranking German officers hatched a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and seize power of the military command in order to end the war. This secret organization came to be lead by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) and on July 20th, 1944, they finally carried out the plan. Thanks to the assistance of General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), General von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), General Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), and Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), they almost achieved victory. Valkyrie is a retelling of this little known dramatic event in World War II history that shows us first hand how von Stauffenberg nearly succeeded in bringing down both Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
The first thing that Bryan Singer lets the audience know stepping into Valkyrie is that certain aspects, like language, aren't going to get in the way of good storytelling. We're quickly introduced to Tom Cruise's von Stauffenberg and shown that he does indeed speak in German, with a German accent, but that this isn't how we're going to hear him in the film. Instead, we're going to see it in the way that we're all most comfortable with - by hearing Cruise's own voice. This shouldn't be more of an issue to audiences than that, and it wasn't for me after that moment. Thankfully Singer's film has such great storytelling, fantastic production design, gorgeous cinematography, a wonderful score, and a damn good script by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, that a lack of German accents was the least of my concerns.
The acting is one of the most important elements of Valkyrie, and it had both its positives and negatives. Tom Cruise lead the film with a certain amount of gravitas, but didn't step out of his normal bounds. And as much as I love Tom Wilkinson, he also felt completely out of place in Nazi Germany. But on the good side, Kenneth Branagh gives one hell of a great supporting performance, as do Eddie Izzard and Christian Berkel. And I've got to mention Jamie Parker, who even as an assistant to Cruise's character, gave the best performance in the whole film, which is an achievement second to none with this cast. Overall, the good performances outweigh the bad, but some might not be able to forgive as easily as I can.
While we could spend days arguing about Tom Cruise's accent, what's actually more important to discuss is the story. Before this film, I wasn't particularly familiar with Operation Valkyrie, but knew that, of course, Hitler didn't die until 1945 when he killed himself. Where McQuarrie and Alexander's script is weakest is in exploring the character of von Stauffenberg, as I never understood why he commanded so much respect. But where their script is strongest is in the suspense of the moment, because once von Stauffenberg joins the organization and starts putting together the plan, my heart was racing. I was truly hoping that he'd pull it off and kill Hitler and overthrow Nazi Germany even though I knew that obviously wasn't the case.
While other good WWII films have come and gone this year, Valkyrie is the one that has stood out the most to me and delivered an engrossing experience that even I was not expecting. I'm not sure why I even doubted Bryan Singer to begin with, but I couldn't be more thrilled to say that in the end, Valkyrie is another fantastic film from one of my favorite directors. Even the score by John Ottman is of notable excellence, although I'm worried it won't get the Oscar nod that it deserves. While I'm still a bit confused by some of the character development issues in the film, the intensity that Singer and his team brought to a story that we already knew the outcome to was what impressed me the most. As long as audiences try hard enough to forget about Cruise's (lack of) accent, they might enjoy Valkyrie nearly as much as I did.