24 May 2011 | bob the moo
Solidly engaging thriller that works despite knowing the outcome before you start
I'm not really a fan of Tom Cruise so I let this film go past me until it came to TV because I just thought it screamed "star vehicle" too loudly. In reality I was probably a bit too hasty with that call because Valkyrie is a solid little film that delivers an interesting story with the predictable Hollywood liberty but does so in a rather satisfying manner. Having decided to put my personal feelings on Cruise to one side, I did still think that the film would struggle because ultimately I already knew the ending (spoiler: the plot to assassinate Hitler isn't successful) and it would therefore not be able to hook me in. I think in a way this was correct but not really in the way that I thought.
In terms of just straight up narrative flow the film does engage; OK it maybe takes a while to establish the main players and get things moving forward but ultimately, while I knew they would fail, I was interested to see what happens, how it happens and what they did. On this level I enjoyed the film and although it was a full two hours long I wasn't bored by it and it felt like it was as long as it should have been. Where I thought it didn't quite pull it off is in the portrayal of why the conspirators felt they had to act. In this regard I didn't feel their desperation and I didn't get a tangible sense of how bad things were at this point in the war for Germany; I know from other films etc how bad things were but this film didn't really do that so much as simply say that things were bad. Likewise I didn't get a feel for the emotions behind the plot and instead I got the impression that the film was taking it as read that everyone dislikes Hitler and therefore that would be all the understanding we would need – this is perhaps partly true but the film needed this as part of it, not an external thing brought by modern audiences.
Singer does a really good job in terms of direction. There isn't a huge amount of action here but the tension is good and it is very well delivered to be a lot more effective than I thought it would be (again, the issue over knowing the ending). The cast is deep in quality but, like me, many will get stuck at Cruise. He does an OK job by which I mean he doesn't overplay or make it all about him the personality. The downside of this is that he doesn't bring much character out either and I didn't see much of a person in his character – he does have presence though, which helps a lot. The supporting cast is rich and their presence also helps the film since you cannot turn left or right without bumping into a quality British actor. Branagh, Nighy, Wilkinson, Stamp, Izzard, Hollander and so on – they all do solid work and are a boon to the film.
Valkyrie isn't a classic by any means but nor is it the ego-driven Cruise film I expected. Instead it is a solidly entertaining thriller based on fact that manages to engage even though you know the outcome. Cruise doesn't get in the way and the support cast make it stronger by their quality and their number.