Wednesday 23 September 2009

Review: Valkyrie

Year: 2009
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson

I enjoyed Superman returns more than alot of people but hey I'm usually against the grain with things like that. But in all honestly, I was rather hoping that the Rumors I heard of Bryan Singer returning to redo X men 3 after the rather drab offering given to us by Brett Ratner. So imagine my surprise to discover that in a complete 180, Singer decides his next film is a historical thriller set in WW2?

For all it's controversy, Valkyrie manages to show that it's an adequate thriller, with enough scenes that rise it above made-for-TV level (Singer's visual storytelling still stands out). However it's bizarre lead casting and lack of conflict stands out terribly.

The film tells the tale of Claus Schenk Graf Von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a German Colonel who plotted (3 times) to kill Hitler and free Germany from his rule. Valkyrie concentrates on the final failed plot.

Although Singer's movie is one of his best looking (if not the best) of his filmography, it suffers from a dreadfully artificial tone that breaks up the films better moments. This may be of the "Titanic syndrome" that the film that the film unfortunately harbors. Due to the fact that I the viewer knows how the plot ends before even watching the film, the film needs a something else to keep me gripped.

The film however doesn't have too much in the way of a strong conflict (either internal or external) to help bolster the story in any way. Cruise's Stauffenberg is a man who know longer believes his leader can lead, however we don't look deep enough into the man's insight, I'd like to believe that there's more going on inside the head of the Colonel, but we never see it. Instead we get cumbersome metaphors to the films title (just happened to be listening to Wagner were we?). What appears to be missing for me is Singer's theme of identity and alienation that was so prominent throughout his movies. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed the aforementioned Superman is that Singer. But it's a theme that seems to be missing here. Stauffenberg appears far too confident for a man whose lost is faith and sense of self within Nazi Germany.

But alot of this stems from placing Maverick himself as the lead character in the film. Cruise, a favorite actor of mine, struggles in this role due to his star status. I can easily separate Cruise from his crazy religion and those who can't and hate his films because of it should slap themselves. However, in Valkyrie all I can see is Tom Cruise in an eyepatch. It's clear that Cruise wishes plays the role as a constantly calculating character, but from the awkward German monologue at the beginning of the film (he can't lose his U.S twang) to the clumsy shout for a free Germany at the films climax, it's clear that he hasn't got the range for this. It's a shame because for the most part I can watch him in many things.

Cruise is surrounded by top English talent, and of course we all know that if your English you must play a Nazi at some point in your lifetime as it's cinematic law. It's maybe because of such a law that many of them are coasting on autopilot. Don't get me wrong, it's not that they're bad, it's just that no one stands out, with the exception being the very reliable Bill Nighy.

Flaws aside the film is for the most part a formidable thriller. Singer keeps the pace in fifth gear and still manages to wring a lot of tension from material, especially in the second half when the pieces of the plot begin to come together before unraveling. It's probably a shame that I've watched Inglourious Basterds before this. Tarantino's WW2 fantasy had me more tightly wound in the fact chapter than the whole of Valkyrie, and QT's decision to make his war movie a fairy tale of sorts allows him freedom to roam across the whole of the landscape of the second world war. Allowing to change what he wants at will and bring about something a little different from the norm. Singer's dedication to the material is admirable, but routine. Die hards should get a kick out some this because the film stays true to it's roots, however for me, I would prefer investing in a documentary of Stauffenberg for more insight.

Note: Anyone whose seen this. I'm just wondering if I was the only person who found the score obtrusive?