Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer team up for a solid suspense thriller that surrounds the conspiring, attempt, and fallout of the final assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler during WWII.
Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is a member of the Nazi army and after his stint in North Africa, in late 1944 Stauffenberg becomes more concerned about his soldiers lives then the mission of the Nazi party. He also quickly finds that he is not alone and that there is a bit of a underground resistance building in an attempt to try and figure out how they can help Germany to save face as well as they can after this the war. To do this, they plot to assassinate Hitler and the scheming and the attempts to recruit, stay secret, and hopefully finally succeed after their last failed attempt is what this film focuses on. Stauffenberg enters the resistance’s ranks as a recruiter of sorts but quickly ascends the ranks as his dedication is proven to be to the end. Stauffenberg lost his eye, two fingers, and a hand in Africa and is risking himself and his families lives by betraying Hitler and to some the country. The group recruits a few new members and devises a plan that will kill Hitler, overthrow the S.S. and transfer power, in one fell swoop to the new regime. The regime is full of many high ranking officials/generals and they have in place men who are qualified for their hopeful roles in the government, though ambition and thirst for power stand in the way of some men making real decisions within their ranks.
Singer’s film is fast paced, full of suspense, and will keep you on the edge of your seat, even if you know how this will all play out in the end. I know how the assassination played out, but didn’t know how things went afterwards, and that part of the story is the most compelling thing in the picture. The first two acts are a bit more deliberate then the final one, but they set up the characters nicely and all the tension is earned in the end as the resistance tries and gets a handle on the fallout from the assassination attempt. Singer continues to do some fine work here, with this film working better than his previous effort with Superman, but does not shine as bright as X2 or The Usual Suspects. With that said, I would love to see him continue to make films outside the comic book genre, as this is another fine film for his repertoire.
The cast in this film is grand and filled with quality from top to bottom. At the top is Tom Cruise, who between Tropic Thunder and this has had another solid year, and he continues to show us why he is one of the best actors of his generation. His command and presence in this film is magnificent, and he perfectly captures Stauffenberg desperation as the resistance attempts to secure Berlin. Bill Nighy is great as the nervous and shifty Olbricht whose emotions and guts swing from scene to scene leaving you always wondering which way he will fall in the scheme of things. Tom Wilkinson is just the right amount of nasty Nazi that he needs to be to keep you on the fence as to which side he really falls. Carice van Houten is criminally under used as Stauffenberg’s wife, but she makes the most of that she is given. Kenneth Branagh is also quite good as a fellow agent of the resistance on par with Stauffenberg but again is not used enough to really bust out into an earth shattering role. In fact, the cast is so good and so large that it is a bit of a shame as many wonderful actors turn in some great work but have severely limited screen time. With that said though, the films pacing might have suffered greatly if Singer fleshed out all of his actors roles, but instead he ends up with a supporting cast of those listed plus the likes of Terrance Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, and Eddie Izzard to perform wonderfully in some smaller roles for actors of their stature.
In the end, Valkyrie is a solid war thriller, rounded out with a great cast and a very good director that turn in a solid little piece of lesser know history here. The film doesn’t blow you away, but manages to constantly keep you pulled in and a third act that works on just about every level. Though, don’t go to see Valkyrie expecting a jolly good time as you won’t leave the theater on an upbeat, not to say there aren’t a few solid dashes of humor sprinkled throughout to lighten the mood. But Valkyrie is best to be viewed as a serious suspense thriller that ramps things up and never dulls through the end. Tom Cruise leads a great cast and if you are a fan of thrillers or war films, this provides and interesting twist on both genres with a little help from history.