Wed, Dec 24, 2008 (midnight)
The one major obstacle to getting completely wrapped up in Bryan Singer’s World War II thriller Valkyrie is, unfortunately, its star, the much-maligned (lately, at least) Tom Cruise. He’s a producer as well, and he gives himself an appropriately significant role: Claus Von Stauffenberg, a German national hero and a colonel in Adolf Hitler’s army who led a plot to assassinate the Nazi dictator that very nearly succeeded.
It’s 1944, and the war is starting to go poorly for the Germans. A group of high-ranking officials in the military, along with civilian politicians and intellectuals who opposed Hitler’s rise to power, have formed a secret organization bent on ousting the country’s leader and replacing him with a more progressive government that will negotiate peace with the Allies. Stauffenberg, a stubborn individualist who believes Hitler is doing great harm to Germany, loses an eye, an arm and two fingers in North Africa, and finds himself working back in Berlin at the headquarters of the reserve army.
It’s there that Stauffenberg is recruited and ultimately becomes head of a plot designed to utilize a Nazi fail-safe called Operation Valkyrie. The lead-up to the plan being set in motion is a little sluggish, and Cruise is never entirely convincing as a dedicated military man and bluntly pragmatic leader. The other jarring element is Singer’s decision to let all of his actors speak in their natural voices—the film is in English (with a token nod to German at the beginning), and actors speak variously with their own American, British, German or other European accents.
Adjusting to the vocal inconsistency only takes a little time, and while Cruise’s performance doesn’t entirely work, he serves well enough as the focal point for the resistance that the flaws are forgivable. The rest of the cast, including Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Thomas Kretschmann and Carice van Houten, is solid and occasionally outstanding, and Singer, the man behind The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men movies, does a superb job at creating suspense in a story where everyone in the audience already knows the outcome. It’s a fascinating history lesson and a nail-biting thriller, and anyone annoyed by Cruise’s tabloid antics would do well to put that aside and give Valkyrie the chance it deserves.