There are no discernibly nasty Nazis in Valkyrie, though Hitler and Goebbels skulk about in a few scenes, shooting dark, ominous looks at the heroic German Army officer played by Tom Cruise. Perhaps they’re wondering what this Hollywood megastar is doing in their midst, a sentiment that you may come to share while watching Cruise — who gives a fine, typically energetic performance in a film that requires nothing more of him than a profile and vigor — strut about as one of history’s more enigmatic players.
That enigma was Claus von Stauffenberg, a count and a colonel who, though he lost one eye, an entire hand and several fingers while fighting on behalf of the Reich, made several attempts to assassinate Hitler and seize control of the government. At the core of Stauffenberg’s spectacularly ambitious plot was Valkyrie, Hitler’s plan for the mobilization of the home army that Stauffenberg hoped to hijack in order to quash the SS and its leaders. It didn’t work, of course, for complicated reasons, though also because by 1944, as William L. Shirer bluntly puts it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the conspirators were “terribly late.”
You don’t learn how belated the coup d’etat was in Valkyrie, which might matter if this big-ticket production with Cruise in an eye patch and shiny, shiny boots had something to do with reality. But the director, Bryan Singer (of the X-Men franchise), and the writers, Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, aren’t interested in delivering a history lesson. Slick, facile entertainment is the name of the game here, as it is in all Singer’s films, including Apt Pupil (about a Nazi war criminal and the American boy next door who outs him) and The Usual Suspects, an intricately plotted story with men and guns, secrets and shadows that McQuarrie wrote. The secrets have already begun swirling by the time Valkyrie opens with Stauffenberg, stationed in North Africa, bitterly recording his opposition to Hitler in a diary right before losing various body parts to the war. After his convalescence he meets Major General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), who, sometime earlier, tries to blow up Hitler with a bomb hidden in bottles of French liqueur. (Russian vodka might have been more effective.) Stauffenberg soon joins the conspiratorial party that includes other British class acts brandishing high military rank and speaking in lightly accented or unaccented English: Bill Nighy as General Friedrich Olbricht, Tom Wilkinson as General Friedrich Fromm, Terence Stamp as General Ludwig Beck and Eddie Izzard as General Erich Fellgiebel.
DIRECTED BY: BRYAN SINGER
STARRING: TOM CRUISE (COLONEL CLAUS VON STAUFFENBERG), KENNETH BRANAGH (MAJOR GENERAL HENNING VON TRESCKOW), BILL NIGHY (GENERAL FRIEDRICH OLBRICHT), TOM WILKINSON (GENERAL FRIEDRICH FROMM), CARICE VAN HOUTEN (NINA VON STAUFFENBERG), THOMAS KRETSCHMANN (MAJOR OTTO ERNST REMER), TERENCE STAMP (GENERAL LUDWIG BECK), EDDIE IZZARD (GENERAL ERICH FELLGIEBEL), KEVIN R. MCNALLY (DOCTOR CARL GOERDELER), JAMIE PARKER (LIEUTNANT WERNER VON HAEFTEN), DAVID BAMBER (ADOLF HITLER)
RUNNING TIME: 120 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Most of the crucial rebellious officers are played by British actors, while some of the Nazi diehards are played by Germans, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if this cacophony of accents weren’t so distracting. But, as with the casting of Cruise, whose German voice-over quickly eases into English, this international acting community invokes an earlier studio age, when Peter Lorre and Claude Rains delivered their lines in exotically flavored English and everyone pretended that Rick’s Cafe really was located in Casablanca and not on a back lot. If Cruise doesn’t work in Valkyrie, it’s partly because he’s too modern, too American and way too Tom Cruise to make sense in the role, but also because what passes for movie realism keeps changing, sometimes faster than even a star can change his brand.