Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Thoughts about the film "Valkyrie"

Last year's film "Valkyrie" stars Tom Cruise as a Nazi colonel who endeavors to topple Hitler's government with Hitler's own reserve army units. It finally came out on DVD and I decided to give it a try. Here are some thoughts about it.
  • Wikipedia considers this to be a historical thriller. If so, it is probably the least thrilling historical thriller ever made. The film has no sense at all about what is capable of thrilling the audience.

    For example, at one point, Cruise's Colonel von Stauffenberg must present the orders for plan Valkyrie to Hitler for his signature. The movie makes a big deal about this by showing von Stauffenberg driving up to the Berghof and getting out of his car and getting his papers ready and waiting to talk to Hitler. Pulse pounding music is blaring the entire time, as if Hitler was going to take one look at this secret plan and then flip out and kill von Stauffenberg himself. Of course we know that that doesn't happen! So when it doesn't happen -- Hitler doesn't even bother to look at the details before signing off on them -- it just underscores the fact that this entire five-minute sequence was utterly pointless.

    On the other hand, the film has real opportunities for suspense with its portrayal of the many clandestine meetings between von Stauffenberg and the anti-Hitler cabal within Hitler's goverment. In a better film, these conspirators would be scurrying around the alleyways of Berlin like rats, constantly looking out the windows, or chain-smoking. In this film, all of the clandestine meetings that we see involve absolute nonchalance on the part of the conspirators. None of the people in this film seem to have the slightest concern that large political associations could possibly be of the slightest concern to Nazi Germany. Von Stauffenberg even openly blurts out that, yes, he is a traitor, while seated in his office in the middle of the Reich War Ministry!

  • The other major flaw of the film is that the main characters are just one-dimensional charicatures of the originals. Terrance Stamp plays "politician guy in suit". Eddie Izzard plays "slimy guy who hangs out in nightclubs". Kenneth Branaugh plays "blockhead Prussian general". The only actor who makes the slightest attempt to avoid becoming a walking cliché is Thomas Kretschmann in his portrayal of Major Otto Ernst Remer, a principle guard officer who is duped by the Valkyrie plan. The stolid army officer who quotes the greek classics is still kindof a cliché, but at least Kretschmann bothers to try here.

  • I also didn't like the jokey, faux-Spielberg moments. A notable example occurs early on in the film when Von Stauffenberg finally convinces his commanding officer in Tunisia to stop being a right-wing fascist bastard and care about his troops for once. So, of course, our newly minted, caring, compassionate, liberal Wehrmacht general is immediately gunned down by an Allied air raid. The political point is unmistakably characteristic of twenty-first century American liberalism: all wars, even World War II, are fought by right-wing maniacs for no other reason than the pleasure of blowing people to smithereens. This is political correctness at its movie-blighting worst, but thankfully the film is content to drop the matter once the action moves out of Tunisia.


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