Tom Cruise’s Noble Nazi Flick

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Valkyrie
  • IMDB: link

“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men.  I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg one of many Nazis loyal to the fatherland, but disatisfied with the Fuhrer’s running of the country.  After getting blown-up in the early scenes the now eye-patched Stauffenberg joins a resistance group and begins planning the assassination of Adolf Hitler (David Bamber).

The film, written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander and directed by Bryan Singer has so many issues not even Superman’s return could save it from disaster.

Let’s start with the Nazi’s themselves.  A more honest good-natured group you’d be lucky to find anywhere outside a Hogan’s Heroes re-run.  All the the conspirators are presented as noble, self-sacrificing men who might be handing out money to the poor and donating their time to work with the elderly if it weren’t for that Hitler guy.  Were all these men tricked into joining the Nazi party?

Also at issue is the explanation of the noble cause everyone is fighting for.  We get no context about Hitler other than that he’s a crappy leader.  Now I’m far from George W. Bush’s biggest supporter, but I’m not spending my time on an assassination plot (I’m too busy with trying to get rid of Ron Marz).  I think you might want to show Adolf as more than just an incompetent leader.  It doesn’t help that he’s only seen briefly in two scenes as an elderly gentleman hunched over a table.  I know that people walking in are supposed to know Hitler = Evil, but how about a little effort or context?  Any at all?  Instead I began to wonder why the eye-patched Tom Cruise was trying to kill that nice old man in the bunker.

Even those loyal to Hitler, what little we see of them, come off mostly as bland officers diligently doing their duty.  The film lacks anything resembling conflict, moral ambiguity, hard decisions, or tough choices.  It’s a film about good Nazis (in this movie that’s not an oxymoron) versus bland Nazis.  Even the SS is turned into nothing more than faceless background officers on a Star Destroyer.  And if all these bad Nazis are so lame why is Maverick so insistent they must to be stopped?  Have they lost that loving feeling?  Is it gone, gone, gone?

Story isn’t the only issue.  Singer wastes a strong cast in throwaway roles better suited to unknowns.  These include Kenneth Branaugh (who disappears for the middle two-thirds of the film and doesn’t have much to do when he’s on-screen), Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, and Eddie Izzard, just to name a few.  I do like how the film plays on the divergence inside the group and layers of distust and inaction which lead to the plan’s failure.  But I would like to know more about this group, and not just Cruise’s character.  At least they’re all beautifully shot and have a few nice shiny new clips for their promo reels.

In a movie about Hitler’s evils and an assassination attempt to wrest control of the country from him phrases like “Jews” and “concentration camps” are hardly mentioned (if at all) let alone explored.  After everything is said and done we have a film glorifying a small group of men who tried to kill the leader of their country without acknowledging the fact that these same men swore an oath to Hitler and have been carrying out his policies for years.  Nor does it explore or develop the mixed feelings these men must have had in attempting to kill the leader of their country and stage a coup.  Cruise and his fellow plotters instead are all presented as noble heroes, almost mythical in stature, above such petty concerns or doubts.

The script also fails to address the fact that the film’s hero is a bit of a coward.  At least twice in the film he gets face to face with Hitler and has the opportunity to blow his brains out, stab him in the throat, or break his neck.  This is in sharp contrast to the man we see in all the other scenes, pushing for the assassination and demanding action.  Why doesn’t he take his chance when he is given easy access and direct contact to Hitler?  The reasons (cowardice? fear? bad eyesight?) for his inaction in these moments if explored might have added another layer to the story.  As they are ignored they simply become one misstep in a marathon of errors.

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