Where do I begin with Valkyrie? Should I start with some joke about Scientology and how Tom Cruise is actually plotting to kill Xenu rather than Hitler? Maybe begin with something about the history behind the movie. Or what genre the film falls into. Perhaps how good or bad it is should suffice for a beginning.
Well, people are already mad at having a Scientologist portray a hero, the history is known to most people, the genre is tragedy, and this movie is good. Now that I’ve hit all of those out of the park, I can’t start with them. Except for the part about this movie being good; I should offer a correction. Calling this movie “good” is like calling the Sistine Chapel “fairly decent.”
There is a much better word to sum up Valkyrie: Phenomenal.
Valkyrie is, as I’ve said, a tragedy. We all know that Hitler committed suicide in a bunker as the Allies were closing in on Berlin, not dying in a German Resistance assassination plot, so we know that Stauffenberg’s and the other heroes’ actions are doomed to failure. So what we are seeing is not so much an action thriller, with us holding our fists and hoping for the heroes to win, but a tragedy where we watch our heroes slowly, unconsciously, and inexorably move towards their doom, feeling sorrow for them all the way. Luckily, director Bryan Singer did not try to make this movie what it wasn’t–instead of a balls-to-the-wall action movie, this is a deep, heartfelt drama. There aren’t many action scenes in this movie; we have one right at the beginning at a German army base in Tunisia; the explosion which was meant to kill Hitler; and when Hitler’s troops realize what has happened and stop the conspirators, and even they aren’t all actiony. Some props to Singer for that.
Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, the two writers, keep the pacing at a good tempo, something that many movies lack. Just as things would get interesting, the movie would switch tack and take a break before the tension got too much. This, of course, occurs until the final stretch, at which point the movie just builds and builds and shows the path that its doomed actors must follow. (And by actors, I’m not referring to Tom Cruise or Kenneth Branaugh.)
Speaking of Branaugh, that was really my one disappointment in this movie. Branaugh is an excellent actor. The only thing Shakespeare related that I like–or at the very least, tolerate without plugging my ears–is his film production of Hamlet. The promos for Valkyrie imply he gets a major role; however, Branaugh has maybe ten minutes in the movie, most of it at the beginning, a few later on before he leaves about a quarter of the way through for the front, and then right at the end, when he prepares to blow his head off with a grenade. (In case you’re concerned about gore, don’t worry–the actual explosion is never shown.)
I counted only two swear words in the entire movie, although one of them occurs in what I think is the movie’s best line: when General Olbricht (played by a fatherly Bill Nighy) is telling another conspirator that they should hurry up: “This plan should probably be put into effect before the Allies get to f%&#* Berlin,” or something along those lines, what I really remember was the way Nighy delivered it, it felt so real and powerful.
This is a movie that should be shown to your children, after they hit puberty and can tolerate a bad word or two. It’s an inspirational movie, one that teaches people to stand up and oppose evil wherever it may be, damn the consequences. It isn’t about success or failure–its about doing something. May we all have the courage to emulate Stauffenberg’s bravery when the time comes. I for one have Stauffenberg as my new role model.
Valkyrie excels not only in its theme and message, but also in its cinematic quality. So with that said:
Final Score: A
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.