Valkyrie is a historical drama based on the last assassination attempt made on Hitler, which triggered an uprising in the guise of a military action known as Operation Valkyrie. The title refers to Richard Wagner’s piece, Ride of the Valkyries, a famous piece of music strongly associated with Apocalypse Now. The Valkyries were depicted in Norse mythology as winged women that would swoop down over battlefields gathering fallen heroes. The name is derived from the old Norse word ‘valkyrja’, which means “chooser of the slain”. In Valkyrie, a faction of high-command German officers plan a coup to restore sacred Germany from the hands of a Hitler late in WWII. Valkyrie is directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects), and stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Cruise is supported by a platoon of respected actors including: Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann and Terence Stamp.
Valkyrie (2008) is one of many recent excavations into Operation Valkyrie, which includes the critically acclaimed Stauffenberg, a German film made in 2004. Jo Baier’s Stauffenberg was made for television, but still captured the essence of the dark period in German history. Valkyrie attempts to translate this powerful story for international audiences. The film is in English, but fades from German to English in the first few minutes. Valkyrie would have been better in German, but the cast wouldn’t have been as impressive. Tom Cruise is in fighting form as Stauffenberg, with an eye patch and without a hand. He tempers his performance, but its more Top Gun than Born on the Fourth of July. Branagh’s von Tresckow rides on the back of his role as Reinhard Heydrich in Conspiracy, a dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference, in which the Holocaust was devised. Nighy, Wilkinson, Kretschmann, Stamp and Izzard also deliver the goods.
Valkyrie’s main flaw is that it doesn’t take sides. Yes, the main characters are all plotting against Hitler and this point is driven home. However, the production is hesitant when it comes to the line between historical resonance and thrilling entertainment. Casting Tom Cruise and commissioning Bryan Singer would make it seem geared to all-out entertainment. Singer’s Apt Pupil shows that he was comfortable with the subject matter and psychology. However, it still retains a tension between fact and fiction. Singer creates moments of tension with climactic scenes, but its like Valkyrie is trying to dupe the Nazi regime and the audience. Unfortunately, there’s a glass ceiling with these types of dramatization. Perhaps this is why Baier’s version was made for television? Everyone that would be interested in seeing a war movie like Valkyrie, will have enough background knowledge to know the eventual outcome.
Unless the audience is fully submerged in the environment, there’s no escaping the horrible truth and eventual outcome. Valkyrie would have been better as a drama like Conspiracy rather than a thriller. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Der Untergang (Downfall) hit the mark because it had the right mix of authenticity, intensity and history. The production values, performances and doomed underdog story keep the audience entertained. However, the commercial cast, choice to film in English, lack of atmosphere and dormant anti-climax make Valkyrie a little disappointing. It succeeds in breaking WWII stereotypes in a similar way to Schindler’s List and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. However, Valkyrie seems mediocre in the company of its esteemed peers.
The bottom line: Satisfactory.