Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tom Cruise's "Valkyrie" now in theaters: it's "workmanlike"


Christmas Day, the new film from Tom Cruise and his resurrected MGM/United Artists, “Valkyrie” opened, after preparation with a matching documentary on the History Channel (reviewed here Dec. 2). The film dramatizes the last attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia in July, 1944.

The film was directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the ring leader tor the coup and revolt.

Pretty early, the film explains the term “Valkyrie” (or Walkure, from Wagner) as the plan for restructuring Hitler’s government as the Allies approach. Stauffenberg reinvented Valyrie according to his own prescription, and even gets Hitler to sign off on it, blindly.

Cruise has to play the film with missing fingers on one hand, a missing hand (covered by a sleeve in dress uniform) and an eye patch. That’s from a wounding in North Africa as the film opens. In one critical scene, he has to give the “Heil” salute and the prosthetic is shown cleverly. As the documentary pointed out, people were jailed for not doing the proper salute to the Fuhrer.

Cruise's acting emphasizes military assertiveness, as he has to undo the "truth" and manipulate others when the rumors of Hitler's death are challenged. He still keeps barking orders and trying to pull off the coup.

Historians say that Stauffenberg may have been as concerned about Hitler’s apparent military ineptitude as with saving Germany and Europe, the latter theme presented throughout the movie. Cruise gets to remain the hero, although battered and her coming to his end.

The film is presented in standard aspect ratio, when it seems wider screen would have been appropriate. As drama, it is fairly straightforward, if over zealous, but it may not present history as clearly as the documentary above. The noisy, busy technology of the times – the teletypes (and typing pools), the emphasis on physical couriers and paperwork to carry military correspondence, now seems striking to us in the Internet age; by the time of the Vietnam war, the US military carried on pretty much the same way.

I saw the film on a Saturday afternoon in a large Regal Auditorium in northern Virginia, and it was over half full.

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