I blame History for spoiling Hollywood’s latest Nazi thriller Valkyrie. Had I not previously known that the attempt made by Germans to assassinate Adolf Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime had failed, it might have made for a more engaging movie. It’s common knowledge that the Nazi leader topped himself; clearly a completely miscast Tom Cruise had nothing to do with it.
Portraying Claus von Stauffenberg, the German Colonel responsible for orchestrating the assassination and following coup, Cruise looks as though he just stepped off the set of Top Gun. Instead of at least attempting a German accent, Cruise opts to put on a ridiculous eye-patch, as if it alone is enough to suggest he is now a Nazi Colonel. In reality of course, he looks about as German as Jackie Chan would in a lederhosen. Despite his big on-screen ego, Cruise is not nearly charismatic enough to convincingly depict Stauffenberg; a man who was able to muster unfaltering support from his fellow conspirators when committing the highest act of treason.
Thankfully, the supporting cast are far more suited to their roles than the film’s star. An ever reliable Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson portray Nazi Generals on either side of the fence, one determined to overthrow Hitler’s regime, the other standing by their oath of allegiance to the Fuhrer. Taking on the most challenging role is small-time TV star David Bamber, depicting none other than Hitler himself, giving a suitably menacing performance that avoids being overdone. Bryan Singer’s direction is also commendable, employing some dynamic camera work that manages to make even the dialogue-heavy scenes somewhat thrilling.
Yet even with so much on-screen chatter, the characters lack any real depth; whilst Stauffenberg’s motives for being involved in the operation are mentioned, the rest of the rebels seem to willingly sign-up without any explanation. Sure, the Western world knows that Hitler’s an evil bastard, but do these Germans want him dead for the same reasons? Couple the simplicity of the screenplay with the fact that the ending is never in doubt, which works only to lessen the tension that the film desperately tries to create, and Valkyrie ultimately struggles to find its wings.