Short Version: While Valkyrie offers a few thrills, the rest is just OK.
Screen Rant reviews Valkyrie
Valkyrie is director Bryan Singer’s WWII true-life ensemble film about a cabal of Nazi officers who conspired to kill Adolf Hitler during the later days of the war. Overshadowing all of that is, of course, Tom Cruise, who stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the German officer who hatches the plan to overthrow Hitler, codenamed Valkyrie.
So let’s identify some of the obvious issues this movie faces:
A) Anyone who’s had third grade history knows that the plot against Hitler ultimately fails. Drawing tension out of a story whose end is already known is a tricky feat.
B) The language issue. It’s a coin toss for which would’ve been more painful: hearing Tom Cruise and Co. trying to speak German, or hearing Tom and Co. speaking English inflected with German accents.
C) TOM CRUISE. These days you’re either able to watch him act, or you’re not.
Now let’s address each issue, one at a time:
Issue A) To its credit, Valkyrie manages to keep things taut and tense most of the time. In the back of your mind you know that operation Valkyrie is going to fail, and that Tom Cruise won’t be flying off “into the danger zone” when it’s all over. However, the film has an extensive ensemble of accomplished actors (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp and Eddie Izzard, to name a few), who play their roles as Nazi officers with enough shifty anxiety and slight menace that you’re never really certain who is going screw who over, when, why, or how. It’s just enough uncertainty and anxiety to snag your attention and keep it. Only problem is, the moment you know for sure how operation Valkyrie goes wrong, the film has no thrills left to offer, with still a half hour left to kill.
Still, the assassination day sequence when the conspirators try to take Hitler out is pretty awesome and had me on the edge of my seat. Bryan Singer at his best.
Issue B) The language thing is bad, I’m not going to lie to you. As I said, having the actors speaking German would’ve been just as terrible as hearing them speak English with fake German accents. I’m sure Bryan Singer realized that very early on, as indicated by the opening minutes of the film, in which Tom Cruise delivers a voice-over in German, which then “morphs” into English.
My gripe is that Bryan Singer chose to disregard the language issue instead of finding a creative solution for it. Understand: when you are dealing with an ensemble of this size, made up of actors who are British and American and everything in between, you end up with a variety of accents being spoken, none of which sounds even remotely German! To say it’s distracting would be an understatement. A vocal coach might’ve worked with the actors to help them understand German phrasing patterns, speech cadences, or SOMETHING that would’ve helped them all sound like they were from at least the same country! But no such luck. You’ll either be able to put it out of your mind as you watch, or you won’t. I got over it.
Issue C) TOM CRUISE. He holds his own in the film and never gets swallowed up by the other heavyweight actors in the ensemble. His character is a stone-faced Nazi hiding a cauldron of anger and contempt behind his steely eyes, which I’ll admit is not that far of a departure from Cruise’s real-life role as a stone-faced celebrity, hiding a cauldron of anger and contempt behind his steely eyes. In the end it’s really a question of whehter or not you can look at Tom Cruise on screen without seeing the man instead of the character. Many people would likely agree that Tom should resign himself to the type of freaky antics he displayed in Tropic Thunder. Better for his career, better for the moviegoing public, I suspect.
All in all, don’t cry if you don’t catch Valkyrie in theaters. There’s always DVD.