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Sunday, 4 January 2009

Cinema: Valkyrie No Godsend

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Plotter

By Richard Carreño
Valkyrie, the new Tom Cruise vehicle, is damn interesting, well acted, and gripping. Yet, the film fails. Though not billed as a 'docu-drama,' it falls into that category. To be sure, there's alot of drama in the docu in this true-life story of an assassination attempt against Hitler. But at the end of the day (actually about two hours one afternoon last week), confusion reigns between the Cruise-controlled narrative and the reality of history.

Of course, many films are based on reality-based dramas. But this important slice of history -- a plot by a group of Hitler's aristocratic generals led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) -- needs more history to make the story take off. As is, the film portrays a cavil of hapless bunglers who mean well (killing Hitler certainly comes under that heading, no doubt), but so much meaning and backstory -- why? motives? and like -- are simply missing from this movie.

More explanation would have made this film into a different production. And, if course, Cruise in a historical documentary -- say, part of the World at War series -- wasn't what the producers of Valkyrie had in mind.

So, we're left with niggling small questions (why does Stauffenberg alternatively use an eye patch and false eye on separate occasions?) to rankling large ones. Why does Stauffenberg go ahead with the bombing when the original venue of the assassination was changed? Doesn't this guy, a veteran of the Africa campaign, know how explosives behave in different environments? Didn't the plotters know that Hitler could have pre-recorded a statement regarding his survival. (There were fifteen attempts on his life, after all). While all the plotters and some innocent hangers-on, in all more than 200 persons, were killed in the aftermath of the plot, how was it that Stauffenberg's immediate family managed to survive? Was Himmler having a bad day?

Worst, yet, is the casting. Director Bryan Singer obviously sent out a call to round up the usual suspects, character actors, Brit chapter. So how did Cruise wind up with Terrance Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy, et al. as Stauffenberg? What, Tom Courtney wasn't available? (Memo to Julia: Doesn't your husband Ray look like Stamp?)
Cruise is an action hero. In this movie, simply a hero would have done. This isn't a knock on Cruise. I like the guy as an actor. He just wasn't right for the part.

Incidentally, despite its sweep and subject matter, this is a 'small' movie. No cast of thousands at war. It could have been made anywhere. Why it was filmed in Germany, then, which resulted in an unnecessary pre-production dust-up over Cruise's religious beliefs (as everyone knows, he's whacked out on Scientology), is anyone's guess. Making the film at Pinewood Studios in London would have at least saved on carfare.