Spoiler Alert: Tom Cruises Col. Claus von Stauffenberg of Germanys Tenth Panzer Division does not kill Adolf Hitler in Valkyrie. Although director Bryan Singer and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander devote the films plot to dramatizing von Stauffenbergs historically correct plan, they get no deeper than telling audiences what they already know. Singers approach to history is as trivial and incompetent was as his fantasy process in The Usual Suspects and the X-Men movies. Not only is Singers filmmaking aesthetically frustrating (lacking coherent visual rhythm) but his juvenile regard of the July 20, 1944, plot to kill Hitlerone of 15 documented attemptsis intellectually insulting.
Von Stauffenbergs legend (participating in the little-known German Resistance during WWII) deserves better than Singers fanboy enthusiasm. But Valkyrie is what we get after the culture capitulated to Singers neo-noir, sci-fi nonsenseour standards have sunk. Torn between duty to his country and allegiance to his personal moral code in the face of the Third Reichs dehumanizing measures, Von Stauffenbergs moral turmoil demands an intelligent interpretation. Singers previous Holocaust movie Apt Pupil offered trashy, homoerotic paranoia in place of a mature sense of life and politics. Here, Singers team traps Tom Cruise in a poorly devised superhero schematic.
When von Stauffenberg performs the heil Hitler salute with a missing hand (after a battle injury), the poignant detail suggests that Cruise needed his former in-house screenwriter Robert Towne to convey von Stauffenbergs Chinatown-like dilemma of social terror, political absurdity and personal compulsion. A desperate man of principal, von Stauffenberg attempts a political coup, partly to redeem honor from the Nazis distortion of German heritage. (Thus, Operation Valkyrie, named after Wagners Gotterdammerung: Handmaidens of the gods choosing who will live and who will die). But when Von Stauffenberg finds himself and his few allies (Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp) isolated and doomed, Singer merely shows them outnumberedas if stumbling into a Nazi-themed Black Party.
Lets be clear: Valkyries failure is not Tom Cruises. His earnest performance should be as respected as Eastwoods in Gran Torino, but hes marooned by Singers blockbuster formula. After Cruises superbly challenging work in Minority Report, War of the Worlds and Lions for Lambs, theres no doubt about his against-the-grain idealism. Von Stauffenbergs insight (These men are confusing respect with popularity) speaks to our era. Valkyrie should have been both heroic and elegiac; but Singer shows no appreciation of serious spiritual commitment or moral tension (his onscreen time code reminds us hes being suspenseful).
Reducing wartime resistance to the action genre over-simplifies Von Stauffenbergs convictions. He declares, Outrages committed by SS are a stain on the German army. But baldly calling Hitler the arch enemy of the entire world is comic-book stuffwithout the satirical vision of Verhoevens Black Book, whose star Carine von Houten plays von Stauffenbergs wife. In this trivializing context, Von Stauffenbergs faithful insistence, I saw the blast!after initiating the plot to blow-up Hitler at his Wolfs Lair compoundis nullified. Singer doesnt support Cruises artistic faith. Valkyries story of heroism becomes a bizarre, pessimistic sequel to Mission: Impossible.
-- Valkyrie Directed by Bryan Singer, Running Time: 120 min.