Sunday, January 11, 2009

Valkyrie: Operation Impossible


Here's the deal, you probably know the ending before you even take your seat in this movie.  Even if none of us were around in 1945, we're all clear on how World War II actually ended.  The beauty of "Valkyrie" is that somehow, somewhere along the line, it makes you forget what you know.  It makes you hope, no, it makes you almost believe that things were going to turn out differently.
The basic plot can be summed up in one interesting all-consuming question: What would happen if Hitler had been murdered by his own men?  There are a million other questions that can stem from that possible outcome, of course, but this movie is only concerned with the practicalities of the idea, how would you actually carry out that plot?
At the beginning, we're introduced to Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise, of course) coming to terms with, as the war ends, the Germany he swore to protect is no longer the Germany that exists.  It's been twisted and warped by Hitler and his cronies, and Stauffenberg realizes that unless drastic action is taken, Hitler's Germany will be the only Germany left in anyone's memory.  As the film progresses we're introduced to an inner circle who share Stauffenberg's ideas and the plot begins to take form, culminating in a completely engaging second half where the audience gets a glimpse at the ultimate "what might have been" moment in history.
While most of the complaints I've heard regarding the movie have to do with Cruise, I have to disagree with those complaints.  Despite the fact that I feel like more often than not, when I think of Tom Cruise I don't first think "great actor", I have to admit that this movie reminded me that Cruise is a pretty great actor on-screen, at least.  He easily slips into character and, although there are ridiculously melo-dramatic moments, I don't know that that's entirely Cruise's fault here.  
As to the complaints that no one has a German accent, I don't even understand why accents are an issue anymore.   In a movie that's made up of mainly British men playing German soldiers, I don't think Cruise's stands out more than anybody else.  Director Bryan Singer employs a neat little device at the beginning that should make it clear to everyone that this isn't just the story of a German man, it's the story of another human who realized what was going on and tried to do the right thing.  It's not just Stauffenberg's story, it's a story about the humanity that should have stopped the crimes before things got as far as they did.  
I can't give a free pass to these guys ( I mean it was already 1944 and Germany's downfall was close at hand) at least there was an attempt to erase part of the shame, and it raises that always important question "what would have happened" "how would things have changed?" 
Singer does a great job of navigating through the story without getting bogged down in the philosophy of it all.  He sticks to the plan and deftly builds the anticipation.  He shines in his wide-angle and overhead shots and while it may not be new, there's something that feels fresh about "Valkyrie".  Everything feels genuine, but not forced, and despite the melo-drama, there's a pay off scene that honestly got to me.  Not to mention the supporting cast is friggin fantastic (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkonson, yes please!  Throw in a side of Jamie Parker and I'm a happy girl).
Overall, I enjoyed it more than "the Curious Case of Benjamin Button" I cannot tell a lie.

4 out of 5 eyepatches

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