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"Valkyrie"

Directed by Bryan Singer.
Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander.
Starring Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Terence Stamp.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  12/27/08

Folks--

At the end of the day, "Valkyrie" really misses the mark in only two major areas--first, it should have been a 100% German production, and second, the entire cast (not just star Tom Cruise) is too famous for the individual parts they are playing.

Let me explain.  Meg, Dave Bell, Syd, Cate and I took in "Valkyrie" on Christmas Day, and generally, we thought the movie, and particularly its plot, is very watchable/interesting and makes for an engaging movie experience.  In our first scene, we follow our lead, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), as he is reading a journal entry in German and during this reading, he segues from German to English to skip the required subtitles, and this holds through the entire film.  Soon after, we learn how sick and tired von Stauffenberg is of this whole Nazi business...tricky, since he IS a Nazi officer.  After having his hand blown off and losing his left eye in an Allied bombing run, Claus has had enough...so, he joins a movement of other Nazi officers to take out Mr. Hitler and slip a new government in place, utilizing a little-known SS officer takeover plan known as "Valkyrie" to solidify the efforts of this resistance movement.  And, one other thing--someone needs to kill Hitler first.

We know how this is going to end because, obviously, Hitler assassination plans did not work throughout WWII.  So, the juice is in the details and the execution, and in this regard, "Valkyrie" is quite good at being one of those important phone call thrillers, where people walking down halls is dramatic, people getting off of airplanes is important, people looking over their shoulder before signing documents is important, and people picking up a phone to take a call looks important.  This work is very doable for director Bryan Singer, who did much of this so well in "The Usual Suspects" and--from what I am told--as exec producer of the TV show "House", he does it quite well there, too.  I liked that "Valkyrie" sticks mainly to the business at hand; there is not much in the way of commentary, there is essentially no character development, there is a minor angle with von Stauffenberg's family, but that is required to tell his part of the story anyway.

And, the day where the Valkyrie mission goes down is told in a matter of fact way that I really liked, right down to its slightly-off-the-beaten-path ending after bombs are planted and the Valkyrie operation is put into motion.  But, here was where I thought the film went wrong:

You just HAVE to do this movie in spoken German.  Have to!  It was actually a distraction to have this film played out by mainly American and non-German European actors.  Further insult--if you go to the movies a lot (i.e., ME), you will howl as Christian Berkel performs as a Nazi demolitions expert/officer while speaking in English...this guy is legitimately the most famous German actor in Nazi films of his time.  Berkel is from Berlin and just a couple of months ago, he played a German officer in "Miracle at St. Anna", and obviously his German is excellent since he IS German.  Do you think it makes sense to have this guy reading all of his lines in English??

Uh, no.

This leads to the second major problem for "Valkyrie"--it actually hurts it to have this many famous people be in the movie.  It takes away from the great story by having so many famous faces be in the movie...this has hurt films forever, most infamously for me in "The Thin Red Line", but in "Valkyrie", it's just a major distraction to have not one, not two, but ten famous people in this movie.  Tom Wilkinson in a throwaway part?  Kenneth Branagh in a throwaway part?  Bill Nighy in a sidekick role?  Terence Stamp?  Thomas Kretschmann?  Eddie Izzard?  The dude that played Theoden in the last two "Lord of the Rings" films?  Even the lead actress from "Black Book" stars as Claus's wife in this movie.  This cast is legitimately full of all-stars, but none of the parts have a scene that would help them, say, win an Oscar.  It's like having Angelina Jolie play one of the terrorists that dies early on in a movie like "Die Hard"; you COULD hire her, but isn't that more of a distraction than a bonus to hire an A-lister who has three lines and nothing memorable to do?

"Valkyrie" is, truly, average.  It is a fast-moving production that tells a story that you have not seen before...but, you kind of wish the guys that did the great German production of "Downfall" or maybe even the recent "The Lives of Others" had done this movie featuring a C-level German cast instead.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09