IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Valkyrie

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Historical thrillers work if the story, acting and direction can draw you into their world and make you forget about the fact you know how the story's going to end. Titanic, for me, fails because I kept waiting for the boat to hit the iceberg and sink. Oh - sorry, spoiler warning there. Anyway, the effective historical films I hold up as examples of working well include Changeling and The Last Samurai, and now I'd like to add Valkyrie to that list. The film stars Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terrance Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann and Eddie Izzard.

Courtesy United Artists

Valkyrie is the story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and the role he played in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, which took place on 20 July 1944. A war veteran wounded and somewhat mangled in action, Stauffenberg became embittered with the war and the motivation behind it. Contacted by the resistance movement within the Wehrmacht, Stauffenberg becomes one of the key figures in the assassination plot. The conspirators believe that Hitler's Germany is not the Germany of their fathers, nor is it one they wish to see continue, a sentiment which Stauffenberg shares. He helps in planning the assassination, delivers the explosive device to the meeting with Hitler and his aides and coordinates the resulting coup effort. If you're at all familiar with history, I think you know how it turns out.

Despite our foreknowledge of how this story ends, Valkyrie is still well presented and provides dramatic tension while fleshing out these historical figures who might otherwise be static images and two-dimensional accounts of their actions. This is due in no small part to director Brian Singer. The man who brought us The Usual Suspects again juggles a talented ensemble cast with great success, employing their skills to slowly build the tension before unleashing it on the audience with an almost blinding fury.

Normally this would be where I rag on Tom Cruise. However, like his performance in The Last Samurai, his personality and the drama surrounding him takes a back seat to the storytelling. Instead of dominating the picture simply by being Tom Cruise, he immerses himself in the role, the time period and the subject matter, which is dark and heroic at the same time. Moments and lines that could easily be blown out of proportion by another actor are handled with aplomb, and I don't recall Cruise chewing on the scenery once.

What stands out in Valkyrie, in addition to the ensemble storytelling and Cruise's grounded performance, is Hitler. The images and videos we tend to see is of a ranting madman. We know, in our minds, the atrocities he inflicted upon the world and to millions of innocent people. However, in this film, Hitler neither launches into bombastic diatribes nor cackles with delight at the slaughter of his enemies. Here, in pacing around a planning table or holding discussions with those few men he trusted, Hitler is quiet, seeming to choose his words carefully and evaluating the worth of human beings as if he was sizing up a pair of new shoes. His restraint and stature make him seem all the more menacing. It completes the package of the film, and contributes to its overall success.

If you have any interest in the second World War, the idea of Germans within the Nazi party fighting against the perceived desecration of their country or some extremely good portrayals of historical figures, Valkyrie belongs on your Netflix queue. It's a powerful story, well-acted and told without much hyperbole. It's a story for our time and it's well worth yours.

Oh, and additional spoiler warning: if you're not a fan of Tom Cruise, you get to see him blown up, strafed, nearly blown up again, wounded in a gunfight and finally executed by firing squad. That alone might be worth the price of admission.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Not too bad of a review. Lack of bias, fair distribution of effects used as a whole on the film. Fair, very fair review.

Thank you. I was hoping I'd avoid the inevitable Internet accusations.

I liked how you described Hitler, because it brings up a fact that most people seem to overlook: Hitler was smart. He may have been evil, he may have been abso-frick'n-lutely bonkers, but he was smart. Valkyrie portrays him as the calculating kind of man who can turn an entire nation (well, at least most of a nation) toward his goals.

Excellent review. I had been looking forward to watching it before it came out, but all of the other reviews I'd seen boiled down to "this movie sucks! I'm sick of WWII! Tom Cruise is a loser!" Between that and a lack of money, I lost interest pretty quick. Thanks for changing my mind.

Nice review, if a bit short, I feel like you should've spent more time talking about the film. Otherwise good review.

I love this movie, and there were parts where I thought "They might actually get away with it!" Even though I knew they wouldn't, that just shows how well this movie builds tension.

Honestly I almost let the internet ruin this one for me. I watched it more out of a need to see it to keep up with the hate, rather than because I wanted to. About half way through, I was absolutely into it, and by that final summary scene at the end I was ignoring everything else. It's not without its flaws to be sure, but they wisely made the decision to keep the accents, while not German, consistent. I've never really been bugged with accents, I mean I don't say "How come that Canadian actor isn't saying "eh" every sentence?" If you forget that, then the performances are incredible.

And I have to agree, it's not a sympathetic portrayal of Hitler, but it's nice to see the man not just treated as ZOMG EVIL HITLER!!!1! They actually take the time to show that he's not crazy, he's very smart, very calculating. Stauffenberg and crew are up against someone who is far more dangerous than a gibbering, speech giving lunatic. If they'd gone the usual way it would have taken so much away by not giving them a worthy villain. Even though going in you know that they fail (what with the "history" and all) you still hope they win. There's a period when you feel like they will win, where they actually pull it off. When things start unraveling you just feel it hit the fan, and you can't help but get down at the end when you realize that everything from a certain point on will be watching such a close attempt fall to pieces thanks to such a simple detail.

Beowulf DW:
I liked how you described Hitler, because it brings up a fact that most people seem to overlook: Hitler was smart. He may have been evil, he may have been abso-frick'n-lutely bonkers, but he was smart. Valkyrie portrays him as the calculating kind of man who can turn an entire nation (well, at least most of a nation) toward his goals.

Indeed. In this portrayal, it's not his rants or his edicts, it's his magnetism - the way he commands the attention of an entire room - that makes him so frightening.

hittite:
Excellent review. I had been looking forward to watching it before it came out, but all of the other reviews I'd seen boiled down to "this movie sucks! I'm sick of WWII! Tom Cruise is a loser!" Between that and a lack of money, I lost interest pretty quick. Thanks for changing my mind.

My pleasure. When you get it, enjoy it. :)

wouldyoukindly99:
Nice review, if a bit short, I feel like you should've spent more time talking about the film. Otherwise good review.

I love this movie, and there were parts where I thought "They might actually get away with it!" Even though I knew they wouldn't, that just shows how well this movie builds tension.

My wife and I felt the same way. We both knew how it ended, but the suspense of the scenes was such that we both felt the plan had a chance of succeeding.

I really loved this film. I completely agree about the portrayal of Hitler. The great dictator guide to playing Hitler is long over due a retirement.

Another really good review, keep up the good work.

You actually made me want to watch a movie I've only heard bad things about. Kudos!

 

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