Friday, December 26, 2008
Judgment at Nuremberg used a similar technique of having characters initially speak in German and then transition to English - some accented, some not - and it worked fine and without distraction because the film was well made and the cast solid. Then there have been films like Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers in which the accents were all over the map including Brits as the French Musketeers and Charleton Heston as the French Cardinal, yet it all worked because the film created a cinematic universe where we could accept that. But Valkyrie is a film out of balance and Cruise's casting - despite the similarities in profile - is simply bad, and because his character is so central to the film it became an insurmountable distraction.
Valkyrie (United Artists)
That being said, the film does draw on a fascinating chapter in history and director Bryan Singer delivers a handsomely mounted production. It is also a rare film in that it tries to present the Germans during World War II as more than just a nation of evil Nazis but rather as human beings, some of whom felt trapped in the machinations of war and were willing to try and challenge what they saw as wrong. In this case try to assassinate the dictator that Hitler had become. But Singer faces a big challenge - aside from the casting of Cruise - in that audiences are fully aware that von Stauffenberg's assassination attempt failed. So it's tough to make a tense thriller when the audience essentially knows the outcome and the fact that the protagonists all fail.
Valkyrie (united Artists)
Valkyrie re-teams Singer with his Usual Suspect screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who co-wrote the film with Nathan Alexander). But the fireworks from that earlier film are not repeated here. The script tries to lay out some of the politics of the times, and ties between the SS and the army but it doesn't quite place the story in a solid historical context to help us appreciate the situation fully. The result is a film that is occasionally compelling in historical detail and intermittently tense in its plotting.
Kenneth Branagh is one of the many talented actors in the supporting cast of Valkyrie (United Artists)
The supporting cast is strong. Among the talented performers are Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and Carice van Houten (who earlier starred in Paul Verhoeven's much more eccentric take on World War II, The Black Book).
Whether or not you like Valkyrie (rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language) will probably depend on how you feel about Tom Cruise. If he proves an annoyance and distraction as he did for me than the film will disappoint. If you like him or can overlook his miscasting than you will probably appreciate what Bryan Singer has achieved.
Companion viewing: Das Boot, Downfall, Undivided, Hitler: The Last Ten Days
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