Release Date: Dec. 25
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
Starring: Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard
Studio/Run Time: United Artists, 110 mins.
Nazis were people, too
The grand idea behind Valkyrie, director Bryan Singer's first non-superhero feature since 1998's Apt Pupil, is "Nazis weren't all bad." Paul Verhoeven successfully mined similar ground in Black Book, and with two of Valkyrie's actors, Carice van Houten and Waldemar Kobus, but there's still plenty of material to explore. With the added resonance of catching Tom Cruise partway through a career resurgence (courtesy of Tropic Thunder) all Singer needed was a taut script to keep the gears moving in time.
Valkyrie's script, written in part by Singer's Usual Suspects co-conspirator Christopher McQuarrie, is anything but. It struggles to establish a single memorable character and only finds the proper balance of tension as it races to the finish line. Rather than thriving within limited narrative parameters (we know how the story ends, after all), the tale battles realism on one side and artistic license on the other. Both sides lose.
Tom Cruise is Claus von Stauffenberg, a Nazi Colonel recruited to plan a high-ranking coup after being wounded in North Africa. The plan: assassinate Adolf Hitler. He believes that Hitler will be the destruction of Germany, and so dedicates himself to bombing der Fuhrer right out of his bunker in East Prussia.
Singer takes his time getting to the climactic fireworks, during which there is ample opportunity to enjoy a rare non-ironic turn by Terrence Stamp and charismatic appearances by Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard. But the talented supporting cast members are memorable more for their own personalities than those of their roles; only Tom Wilkinson, as a general fiercely protective of his career, emerges as a realized character. In the meantime, Cruise is as energetic as a maimed Nazi officer can be, but his kinetic moments are mostly turned towards the defense of the German national character, rather than to his immediate actions.
Valkyrie is competently made and thoughtfully crafted; it has more in common with deliberately paced caper pictures of old than The Usual Suspects. But as a thriller—even a political thriller in which dialogue exchange is the principal fireworks, and action is necessarily understated—can't afford to be so flaccid. We're left knowing the bomb will fizzle, and not even much concerned with the how or the when.
Watch the trailer for Valkyrie: