20 March 2009

Movie Review: Valkyrie


2008, 120mins, PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer (s): Nathan Alexander, Christopher McQuarrie
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, David Bamber, Eddie Izzard, Tom Hollander
Release Date: 25th December 2008

Valkyrie is a triumph for popcorn cinema, a film that manages to score a virtually perfect balance between intelligence and entertainment value. The performances in the picture are pretty high quality but the films real hero is director Bryan Singer a man who has made a career out of making well crafted and emotionally resonant pieces of mainstream cinema. I enjoyed Valkyrie on numerous levels and coupled with Tropic Thunder would judge it as just the comeback Tom Cruise required.

Valkyrie is based on true events, the story of a bomb plot to kill Hitler from within his own ranks. The plot was headed by Claus Van Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) a man who felt that Hitler and his Nazi party where slowly destroying Europe and Germany. After sustaining serious injuries in action Stauffenberg began to conspire against the leader of the Nazis and eventually he and a group of likeminded individuals formed a plot to kill him once and for all. In doing so they believed they could agree peace with the allied forces and save Germany from total destruction. Valkyrie is that story played as a thriller, a tough task seeing as the majority of the audience wil be aware of the stories outcome. If you don’t I’m about to reveal it- the plot failed and the rebels were crushed and killed. It’s then a testimony to Singer and his screenwriters that Valkyrie is so consistently entertaining and engaging.

As Stauffenberg Cruise is solid and reasonably effective, but it’s the supporting players who really carry the film and help maintain the pictures sympathetic nature. Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh are both superb infusing genuine depth and emotion into two bit part figures whilst the likes of Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are on hand to further increase the thespian punch that Valkyrie is packing.

David Bamber isn’t given much screen time as Hitler himself but in truth the script only really views the character as a plot point rather than emotionally present being. One thing that really disappointed me was the lack of focus that the story places on Stauffenberg’s family which includes the talented Carice Van Houten as his wife. Still it’s a small quibble and might even have been a necessary sacrifice in keeping the film moving at a quick and attentive pace.

As a thriller it’s shocking just how well Valkyrie works, this is largely in part to the skill of its helmer and the screenplay treating the audience with some sort of intellectual respect. The movie’s middle section is particularly gripping as Singer develops the plot and characters with the eye of a truly talented filmmaker. I’ve seen most of the pictures on Singer’s CV and can truly say that nothing of his has ever struck me as anything less than watchable, and now with this and The Usual Suspects some of it is so much more.

The movie is well shot and features some stark and high quality cinematography; the product even manages to pepper itself with a handful of large scale set-pieces outside of the more intimate central story. These aspects gel extremely well and gather together to represent a hugely effective piece of filmmaking. The movie possibly runs at 10 minutes to long but in truth the amount of sheer entertainment value it represents allows the audience to forgive this flaw with ease. Like the best thrillers Valkyrie works hard to establish real connections between its characters and the audience, essential given the tragic and poignant finish this particular article arrives at.

This is in part down to the well crafted performances and intrepid direction but mostly the thanks on this point is in the hands of screenwriters Mc Quarrie and Alexander, who always allow the characters to come before the dynamic scenarios.

I really was impressed by Valkyrie and find some of the negative things being written about it surprising. Granted there was always going to a degree of Tom Cruise hating but here he actually does a good job and beyond him the picture is truly excellent. Both as a thriller and the study of a brave rebellion I’m going to offer Valkyrie a high recommendation.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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