Tom Cruise reads out from his diary in the German language with English subtitles in his first scene in Valkyrie, the new World War II historical drama. The film’s dialogue then quickly fades into English. Here we go, this is how Tom Cruise will make his German character palatable to audiences worldwide by going English. But Cruise is Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the very important historical figure who hatched an assassination attempt on Hitler. Sigh, some actors have the chameleon-like ability to feel their characters in their bones (think this season Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”), but somehow you’re never quite convinced that Cruise has ever, uh, been a German in a past lifetime.
I’m not out there to slam Cruise like some snooty critics. I can separate my idea of the public image Tom from the screen Tom unlike some critics that want to go on a never-ending bash tirade. The screen Tom, for me, has done amazing performances in “Born on the 4thof July,” “Magnolia,” and “Minority Report.” So while I believe Tom sincerely wanted this WWII story to play in giant movie palaces everywhere, he should have had the humbleness to stick with producer credit and hire another actor for the main role. But it’s not just Tom Cruise – its Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Terrence Stamp also way out of their element. Any sense of authenticity is seriously rendered because we can’t accept these English bred actors in this setting. Also, Germany is done in too many obvious Hollywood set dressings.
After an opening air raid attack (signature plug-in action scene at least explains how von Stauffenberg lost some digits and succumbed to an eye patch), we get a surprise introduction to Adolph Hitler played by an actor who has the right unerring mustache and haircut (David Bamber). And we come to think that this will get interesting to get up close and personal with the 20thcentury’s most notorious monster. But no, he’s not even given any dialogue in his first scene – Hitler is a transient in his first appearance. Later, we finally hear Hitler speak (Yes! We do!), but it is disconcerting and detaching because Hitler is speaking in English. For some reason, you just can’t get the feeling of the ferocious impetus of Hitler when hearing him in English. Bruno Ganz did the greatest Hitler embodiment, in full German dialect in the unforgettable WWII epic 2005’s “Downfall.” Not into foreign films? Well, see one. That one.
But, language issues aside, how entertaining is this last days of Hitler epic? Well, there must be twenty-five minutes in this first act devoted to actors standing around in offices and corridors discussing their German resistance strategy. Too much talk. Tom’s Claus von Stauffenberg is recruited by other anti-national socialists that conspire to overthrow Hitler, and Stamp stars as principle architect General Ludwig Beck. Yet there are so many anti-Nazi Germans in these opening passages that you wonder if there are any pro-Nazis that existed in Germany, you know, the Nazis that killed 6 million Jews. Around every corner von Stauffenberg meets others that also despise their Nazi manifesto.
I know the point of the film that not every Nazi was a cooperative Nazi, that there were indeed defectors in Fatherland. But the film, directed by Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) with an impulse for shortcuts, maps out the relationships between willing conspirators with too much convenience. The film does gain some momentum by its second hour nonetheless when it concentrates on the crucial day of July 20th, 1944 which commissions von Stauffenberg to detonate the bomb in Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin. The film does widen your eyes to an occasional potent effect with its recreation shooting on real locations. But ultimately, I’ve seen better A&E cable documentaries on this subject.
121 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
MILITARY DRAMA / WORLD WAR II / WEEKEND AFTERNOON MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Downfall” (2005, Germany); “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” (2005, Germany); “Defiance” (2008); “Operation Valkyrie” (2008).