Review: Valkyrie

Enlightened to the evil of Adolf Hitler, a battle tested German Colonel named Clause von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), joins a group of fellow dissenters in an intricate plot to assassinate their Fuhrer.
By  · Published on December 24th, 2008

Valkyrie (2008)
Directed by Brian Singer
Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander
Starring Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh
Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.

Story: Enlightened to the evil of Adolf Hitler, a battle tested German Colonel named Clause von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), joins a group of fellow dissenters in an intricate plot to assassinate their Fuhrer.

Review: What is it that we’ve loved so much about the work of Brian Singer and Christopher McQuarrie? Well, together they’ve shown the ability to create interesting characters and weave a story that is both engaging and surprising. These tools, found most prominently in 1994’s The Usual Suspects, were enough to propel the careers of both director and scribe. Since then they’ve gone different directions — Singer to the ups (X-Men) and downs (Superman Returns) of the superhero genre and McQuarrie to what can only be described as a long vacation. Now they are back with Valkyrie, perhaps the most straightforward drama that either man has ever delivered. And while Singer has stepped up his visual game as a director, it would appear that both men have lost a step where it counts most — in their ability to tell us a story that makes us want to pay attention.

The film’s problems begin somewhere around the 20 minute mark, right after Singer inundates his audience with a very impressive bout of action. The action, which takes place on the Nazi African battle front, serves as motive for Colonel Stauffenberg (Cruise) and his ultimate quest to kill that Hitler. Shot in digital, the opening action sequence is easily the film’s highlight. It proves that maybe Brian Singer does have a knack for delivering some solid action beats. Unfortunately he allows his story to unravel from there.

Normally I would be defensive about the “we all know what’s going to happen, so why bother” factor. Because sure, we all know how Hitler’s fate is ultimately dealt. But there are still ways to get the audience invested in the characters and build some sort of tension. In this film, McQuarrie and Singer do their best to bring about said tension, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. The final act of their film is drawn out and incredibly anticlimactic, muddled by countless inconsequential scenes, many of which only extrapolate key plot points that have already been delivered. Do we really need to see five different conversations that just reiterate the same plan over and over again? Not really. And while there are certain repetitive elements, including one involving Germany’s national guard, it is clear that they are done for dramatic effect. And if you are an incredibly patient person, you might just be able to keep yourself entertained long enough to make it to the payoff, which isn’t much to write home about either.

Story aside, there is another issue with the German accents in the film. As you may remember, there have been countless discussions about the mostly British and American cast and their lack of German accents. Because after all, they are supposed to be Nazis. The film doesn’t completely dispense with the German dialect. In fact, it opens with Tom Cruise narrating in German, a narration that slowly morphs into English. From there we meet characters with all sorts of accents. The likes of Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp and Bill Nighy choose to roll with their standard British accents. Carice van Houten, who actually speaks German, and a few others speak with a German accent. And Tom Cruise, well, he sounds like Tom Cruise. Though, he’s not the odd man out — the odd man is Eddie Izzard, who drops his British accent and lays down an American dialect, despite his role as a German officer. It’s all very confusing. My best guess is that since Tom Cruise couldn’t pull off the German accent, they decided to just go with whatever. You wouldn’t try to recast the head of the studio that’s making your film, would you?

Speaking of Cruise, while many might think that Cruise’s ego would be the downfall of this film, he is not. In fact, it is clear in his performance as Col. Stauggenberg, the man who leads the attempt against Hitler’s life, that Cruise is still very much a great action star. His performance alone lends to some of the success of film’s few truly dramatic moments. But as you may have guessed, it isn’t quite enough to give the story life down the stretch. It also isn’t enough to draw the audience into the mission against Hitler. While McQuarrie and Singer do their best to convince their audience that “these are the good Nazis,” there is still a disconnect that cannot be bridged. In the end Valkyrie is less a thriller and more a historical melodrama. But who knows, some of you may be into wasting two hours for twenty minutes of solid action and intrigue. If that’s the case, be my guest and go check out Valkyrie.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)