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.
Reader Feedback - 39 Comments
i want to see kevin's review
Darrin on Dec 12, 2008
No mention of Carice van Houten at all?
Angelo on Dec 12, 2008
You actually think this film is better than the Reader? Guess it is a matter of taste. I found that the first half, dragged and dragged. The film only livens up once the operation goes into full swing. In writing that I was trying to shy away from spoilers and that brings up the huge, huge problem with this movie -- for 99.5% of the population you can't spoil this movie. You know what is going to happen and what is going to happen is what they try to build up as the suspense. The movie becomes like being stuck in traffic, with the unresolved question being when you will get home not if. The production is great and I appreciated the acting of the cast (other than Cruise) even more than you did. There is no doubt that this is a well-made movie. What it is not is a well-conceived movie.
Nihil on Dec 12, 2008
And Angelo -- Carice van Houten is fine, but she's only in the movie for a couple scenes. The conspiracy plot is the exclusive driving force in the flick, which means its basically about Cruise and a bunch of elderly English guys sitting around talking (there is a total of one action scene and what I'll call two action moments, and their all in the commercial).
Nihil on Dec 12, 2008
This review just cemented my dislike of Alex Billington. Tom Wilkinson's role was THE best in the film. And it's weird how up in arms people were over the anglo-instead-of-German voices, but once they see the movie it's not an issue... that's cause it was never an issue. The movie was a decent thriller, it just lacked a lot of suspense and missed out on several possibly very powerful scenes.
adrian on Dec 12, 2008
"his production values are incredible, but they're never overdone like with Michael Bay" Blasphemy!
Neil Miller on Dec 12, 2008
@ Nihil. Thanks for explaining. I'd hoped she had a more prominent role...
Angelo on Dec 12, 2008
there were other WW2 films out this year?
harrison on Dec 12, 2008
#8, there have been/will be at least three other this year. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Defiance The Reader I'm not sure of any other ones, so you'll have to ask elsewhere for the rest.
James on Dec 12, 2008
#5-Adrian Try breaking the Prozac's in half.
Quanah on Dec 12, 2008
Don't worry Alex. That's just one of the escapee's from our little facility here in Alberta, Canada. His real name is "Monkeyshit" and he likes to masturbate to photos of Liberace wearing hats made of fruit. One of the nurses on the night shift left her laptop out as she tried to wrestle Monkeyshit's "My Little Pony" doll out of his claw. As the nurse stopped to take a breath, Monkeyshit grabbed the laptop and escaped out of his skinner box.
Quanah on Dec 12, 2008
9/10? more like 6.5/10. It was suspenseful for the first 3 quarters but the end felt rushed, almost like it was an attempt to get it to a decent running time and i could have easily sat through another 30 minutes. I kind of forgot how much i enjoyed the first 3 quarters because of the weak ending. It also had some strong cast members but some were wasted and their characters didn't feel like they had time to develop. The actors speaking with their native accents was a little odd as well, but i imagine it would come of comedic if they all spoke with a German accent. But agreed, top notch production values, i'd love to know where he managed to wrangle up those old aircraft.
Bob on Dec 12, 2008
I was fortunate to have watched a screening last week and Singer did a fantastic job all around. This wasn't a Tom Cruise movie, it was a Bryan Singer movie which was suspenseful even though everyone knew the outcome. Great performances throughout this movie. Wilkinson played his usual pissed off self and his performance was o.k. Meaning you knew going in what you were going to get out of him.
dee on Dec 12, 2008
#5: A lot of people don't like Wilkinson's performances in movies. People didn't like him in Batman Begins, etc.
Itri on Dec 12, 2008
Alex, what movie did you see? It's fine if they used American accents, but half the cast used American and some used German and some used freakin' British! The acting was awful aside from a few like Wilkinson, Nighy and Braghan. Cruise showed good determination and self-containment as a colonel, but he had the same exact expression on his face through-out the whole damn movie. The tension was no where to be found and the action sequences were pitiful, espicaly for Singer. The script wasn't bad, but they tried to make it way too many things.
Ryan on Dec 12, 2008
I haven't seen Valkyrie, but that doesn't stop me from reviewing it! http://goldenboat.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/not-at-the-movies-valkyrie/
Paul O'Connor on Dec 12, 2008
Finally, some more reviews, I'm so stoked to see this movie with my mom. I want to see her reaction to a movie where a group of people actually attempted to get Hitler killed. I can already see the guy who plays the German Monster is going to get real famous and called " Hilter" wherever he goes now. What was his name David Barden? I'm surprised that I never read of this in history, but I bet it's gonna show up or be talked about more often, now that this movie is coming out. My mom will be proud of me, since we will both be watch an piece of history, instead of just any movie to pass time!
El Negrito Suave! on Dec 12, 2008
haha what a title, "Year's best WWII movie", so basically it's the best of 4 films... not too much competition.
OJ on Dec 12, 2008
alex, do you think this WWII movie is as good as "downfall"?
dan on Dec 12, 2008
I am a huge fan of WWII films also, and I found The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to be very good. I always welcome a great addition to a chapter of WWII; fiction or non-fiction. I definitely hope it lives up to what I expect
L on Dec 12, 2008
You might want to save the "This Year's Best WWII Film" label until Defiance comes out. I've heard a lot of positive buzz about it. Wait, it does release this year, right?
dallegre on Dec 12, 2008
Yeah man I mean liek ive seen it liek 4 timez and um.. liek you sux at reviews... you should just quitz fag lololol JK I loves you man...
CSpuppydog on Dec 13, 2008
"I'm calling bullshit..." You're awesome Alex!
Conrad on Dec 14, 2008
I saw it at an advance screening here in DC. There wasn't a large turn out like there usually is for free screenings. But my friend and I both thought it was a good movie, I wasn't amazed by anyone's performance I think that may have been on purpose to keep it simple.
tzarinna on Dec 14, 2008
Thanks for the feedback. I look forward to seeing this film as well as Defiance with Daniel Craig. Every now and then I like to watch something serious. But I do look forward to some kind of blow-up, car-chase, action movie. I guess I have to wait for the summer for one of those.
Bry from Chi on Dec 14, 2008
I have not yet seen the movie but this review does make me more interested in seeing what the buzz is about. I have been a war history buff for the majority of my life and have known quite a lot of various operations enacted by different governments during WWII and was quite excited to see how this would play out on the big screen. What did make me nervous was the casting of Tom Cruise, who I tend to associate with blow-em-up action flicks and not with strong acting. The remaining cast, special effects, and from what I have learned regarding accuracy to the original event I am honestly more jazzed about seeing this film once I can. p.s. Am I the only one who would have preferred the entire film in German?
Copernicus on Dec 15, 2008
to #8: Miracle at St. Anna
wwii reenactor on Dec 16, 2008
@ 15, I find that really surprising. As far as I know a lot of people enjoyed his performance, he was menacing and disarming. Just curious as to what their feeling were on those perf? I really liked him in this movie, even though I though it wasn't very good. @ 23 - The real reason is that you know what's going to happen before it does. It's preordained almost. A lot of scenes lose their flare because they seem so futile. The scene in which Cruise has to use his three fingers to cut the wire on the explosive was great, perfectly filmed and well acted(big Cruise fan btw) but because of the fact that you knew NO MATTER WHAT it wasn't going to work... it felt ho-hum. @10 - Oh is that how you take them? I just up-ended the bottle or tossed a handful into my lucky charms... silly me.
Adrian on Dec 17, 2008
Pretty tired of reading all of these SHILL reviews. Let me tell you about the movie; It's loaded with a wonderful supporting cast that never gets any air-time. This is another Tom Cruise "hey look at me mom" feature. Cruise is a distraction in this film; He's the lone American accent on screen, Tom goes out of his way to alter history and condense the performances of other actors just so he gets most of the spotlight, and the end result is a self produced film by a self obsessed man who can't act his way out of a paper bag. Valkyrie was a laughable failure that purchases its own reviews.
Emanuel Levy on Dec 20, 2008
Alex Billington is a fagot and a bad reviewer
Ned on Dec 23, 2008
How is it that everyone has seen this movie when it is being released on 12/25/08? Is everyone here a professional reviewer? I doubt it very much. So what gives with this thread? Let's consider EL's and AB's reviews and form our own opinions when we see the movie and compare them objectively to existing reviews. That's the procedure. I cannot stand these fake pusilanimous reviews by a critic or DJ from radio station X that is paid $500.00 for a GEE WHIZ rating. It's always a dead give-away when the review comment is huge and the reviewers name is in little tiny letters. Let's give TC a chance but if there is any truth to trying to buy or influence reviews then this movie is likely to be a floundering turkey.
Moviefan on Dec 23, 2008
The accent is a non-issue. No-one gives a crap about Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine using their American accents while playing French officers in Ridley Scott's The Duellists. If it had been any other actor, no-one would have been making a fuss. But because it's Cruise, and people are too bigoted to remember what they learned in school (i.e. don't discriminate against people just because they have different beliefs than you), it suddenly becomes an issue. People are waiting like hawks to say something negative about Cruise in this film...so they pick on something as irrelevant as his accent. Shameful.
Manfred Powell on Dec 24, 2008
Because of the repugnancy of the Nazis, we sometimes forget there were Germans of conscience who were not marching “lock-step” in the same direction as their country. The fact “Valkyrie” was only one of at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life is sometimes lost in the historically justified bashing of a society gone insane. There were however, heroes; they should be remembered and their story be told. Glad for this film.
dgretter on Dec 26, 2008
This is an excellent movie. Bryan Singer at his best. Yes, everyone knows about the sad outcome, yet the production is so well executed that it is emotionally gripping stuff! For me, the overall impact of the movie was powerful. I went to see this movie expecting e mediocre few hours of entertainment and instead came away enthralled by the whole production. I agree with the comments above about: (1) the way the movie handles up front the issue about the "accents is clever (2) cinematography, editing and music deserve special mention (3) for me - a Brit - the acting from all these well known Brit actors was superb (4) yes, the unwinding of the plot could have lasted a bit longer with stronger developmnet of Cruise's character (5) yes, there's a compelling message that not everyone in a corrupt and crazy political and military system shares the same values. Cruise was very good.
MarkC on Dec 27, 2008
Alex, common man. This movie deserves a 5/10 at most...more like a 3 or 4 out of 10. This film was far from great. It was a bit suspenseful, but that's about it. Tom Cruise didn't act differently but played himself, and Bryan failed yet again at wow-ing audiences. With The X-Men and Superman Returns, Singer proved that he's a terrible action director. And with Valkyrie, he has now proved that he's lost his edge of making thrillers from what made him famous with The Usual Suspects. What exactly did Bryan Singer do well here? How were you wow-ed? By authentic 1940's Germany? ok...anything else? nope. Bryan singer continues to mess up films...he's totally over-rated. I suppose the plot flowed well, but the film took no time in digging deep into the personal motives of why these men were doing what they were doing. What if Germany was winning the war? Would these same men still have been plotting against Hitler? Instead, it's just assumed that the audience can relate to why these men want Hitler dead. Please Alex, explain more in detail why you rated this film a 9/10...because you're credibility as a reviewer has been shot with your thoughts on this film.
Matt Suhu on Dec 31, 2008
I saw the film and liked it quite a bit. Is it a substantial bit of film making - probably not. But it is extrememly well paced and the characters are fairly well developed. It's nice to see a thriller sans computer graphics that can still entertain and provide fantastic images. It is well photographed and quite authentic. These attributes make this TRUE story all the more believable. That is the sign of a quality movie. TC did a fine job and I see no need to bash him. His company UA took a business risk and will probably recoup their investment in worldwide release through video. At least one wealthy actor is making his own mark by investing his own money. I say good for you TC.
moviefan on Jan 6, 2009
I believe this movie deserves as much praise as people are willing to give it and find it a stretch for people to criticize a lack of character development in this true story. The screenwriters wrote a script that told a story, they didn't try to figure out what the people involved felt to a great extent. They let the story create the drama and suspense and refused to put Hollywood spin on it. This movie was a genuine true story, not a Hollywood true story and I feel that the filmmakers should be praised for that.
Jordan on Jan 10, 2009
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