2.5/5   Walküre
dir Bryan Singer
scr Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
with Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Parker, Kevin McNally, Tom Hollander, Kenneth Cranham
release US 25.Dec.08, UK 23.Jan.09
08/US United Artists 2h01
Whose side are you on: Cruise and Nighy

wilkinson branagh stamp
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Valkyrie Another astonishing true story gets the Hollywood treatment and ends up being rather flattened in the process. While trying to ramp up the heroic aspects, the script simply isn't strong enough to hold our interest.

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), injured while serving in North Africa, returns to Germany in 1943 determined to bring down Hitler. He quickly teams with a group of coup-plotting military officials led by Ludwig Beck (Stamp) and General Olbricht (Nighy), and they come up with an elaborate plot to kill the Fuhrer and take control of the government. But on the fateful day things must go perfectly to plan or they'll all be in big trouble.

There are two fundamental problems with this film that undermine its considerably powerful story. Like another recent WWII drama, Defiance, the script and direction feel oddly pedestrian for such a talented writing-directing team. There is very little in the way of subtext that might bring the themes to life; the talky dialog is earnest and superficial, rarely breaking the surface to explore bigger themes that would engage us. And Singer's direction is slick and efficient, but lacking in invention or insight.

Second, and more problematic, is the casting of the lead role. Cruise is simply too stiff and iconic to effectively play a hero, even one as impulsive and intriguing as von Stauffenberg. Next to more layered and offbeat performances from Nighy, Wilkinson, Stamp, Kretschmann and Izzard, Cruise barely registers. What presence he has is due to his movie star charisma and the sheer weight of the role he's playing: a battered man who refuses to go down without a fight.

This is an extraordinary true story. And while the film is structured as a thriller, with some strong tension along the way, the outcome is never in doubt. A refreshing sense of uncertainty comes from not knowing who's on which side. And it's interesting that political parallels are more in line with the 2004 US presidential campaign than anything more current. This leaves the film feeling a bit old fashioned and corny, especially when the filmmakers indulge in two moments of "Captain! My captain!" sentimentality. Although the shifting morality of people who don't care what side they're on as long as it's the one that wins in the end leaves us with something potent to chew on.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 19.Jan.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall