Tom Cruise usually plays one of two roles; either he is cutting loose, having fun and not giving a damn (such as in Mission Impossible or his scene-stealing cameo in Tropic Thunder) or he is intense, focused and doing a lot of jaw clenching (Minority Report, say, or Lions for Lambs). It’s safe to say that Valkyrie well and truly belongs in the second camp, being as it is a deathly serious dramatisation of German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg’s unsuccessful assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler during the dying days of World War II. Aided and abetted by a variety of sympathisers, including General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), General Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) and Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Stauffenberg hatches a plan to assassinate Hitler (David Bamber), so initiating Operation Valkyrie in which the army would be able to seize control of Berlin and broker a peace with the Allies.
The fact that anyone familiar with only the basics of history knows that this plan was a failure is just one of the obstacles facing Singer’s film before it even gets going. Knowing the outcome does suck much of the tension from proceedings, although, once the film gets past its plodding beginning and Stauffenberg finds himself knee-deep in treason the energy does pick up somewhat.
It’s been reported that Cruise decided to play Stauffenberg when he saw the physical similarities between them but, despite the fact that they may look alike, the casting of Cruise is always going to be problematic for a film such as this. Not because he’s a bad actor, as indeed he is not, but because he is and always will be undeniably Tom Cruise; particularly detrimental when he’s playing a real-life German Nazi.
If you can leave you incredulity at the door, however, Valkyrie isn’t all bad. The large ensemble cast are excellent, even if they are speaking in a variety of accents; everything from American to English and Izzard’s strange, affected Canadian-ish twang. And Cruise showcases some of his finest, jaw-clenching intensity to date, obviously investing deeply in the character of Stauffenberg. Bryan Singer, too, brings an authenticity and reverence to Stauffenberg, and what he was trying to achieve, and, as a snapshot of history – albeit one that takes some dramatic license – it’s an inoffensive way to spend a couple of hours, even if it does lack a surprising amount of clout given its explosive subject matter.
The DVD contains two commentaries, the most interesting of which is certainly the one with star Tom Cruise, director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie as they provide three very different viewpoints on the film-making process. McQuarrie also pops up on the second commentary, along with his co-writer Nathan Alexandrer. There are also two featurettes, looking at the legend of Valkyrie and the making of the film.
The Blu-ray contains all of the above plus an extra five featurettes, including a look at the explosive sequence in Africa and recreating Berlin on screen. There is also a digital copy of the movie, which allows you to transfer it onto a portable device. 3 stars
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Stars Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp
Director Bryan Singer
Distributor MGM Home Entertainment
Format DVD and Blu-Ray
Released June 9