Thursday, December 12, 2013

Valkyrie (2008)

Valkyrie9/10 Stars

Forget all the negative hype surrounding Valkyrie, because I assure you it is false. Bryan Singer has made a well-crafted thriller that kept me and my family on the edge of our seats until the end even though we all know what the story's unfortunate outcome. Also, many tabloids were making this out to be the movie that would permanently cripple the career of Tom Cruise. This is entirely false. Cruise delivers a fine performance, and this hatred I can only assume is related to his rather odd personal life. Tom Cruise is as strong of an actor as he ever was, and I won't let something like turning Oprah's couch into a playground deny the fact that the man has talent, and is a truly passionate actor (and seriously, he does have a slight resemblance to Stauffenberg).

The movie is based on the last of fifteen known attempts on the life of German dictator Adolf Hitler (I'm sure everyone will have him in a nice "Five Most Evil People" list), and has Tom Cruise playing Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who of course was the key player in the assassination attempt. Ultimately this attempt failed (as we all know Hitler would die by suicide nine months later), but that doesn't keep Valkyrie from being an addictively engaging film.

Every member of the cast does their part well, not jockeying for superiority in any way. More importantly Cruise does not grandstand in this movie, fading in with the rest of the cast, rather than trying to stand above them like you'd expect, given his past films. Cruise gives a performance similar to 2005's War of the Worlds, where he does a good performance, but he never tries to overpower the other members of the cast. In Valkyrie Tom Cruise is a being a good team player, not trying to steal any glory, and never once does he overact the part.

Using very little CGI Valkyrie is also a wonderful film to look at. The vintage automobiles and aircrafts make this film have a distinct authentic flair that few other war films have (CGI looks like it was only used for the climatic assassination attempt). You can look at this and tell that this is the real deal, with the production team putting careful care into how they want this film to look, unlike most Blockbuster films that try and inflate every aspect of the film rather than aim for reality. Like the performance by Tom Cruise they don't try and overpower the audience with special effects, they simply let the characters slip into the realistic settings.

Also, the complaints about the accents I truly feel are desperate attempts to bash Cruise's performance. It was director Bryan Singer's concept to not use false German accents, and not that of Cruise, or the primarily British cast. I agree with Singer's concept that if feels false, and inaccurate to have people speak in English, but with foreign accents. I know several Germans in real life, and they do not sound very "German" when they speak in English, because the accent is not intended for the English language. I personally feel the desire for English being spoken in German accents comes from decades of WWII films where we've categorized every-single member of the German army, and by them speaking in that accent only is to cliché them and separate them from American audiences. They can speak in German accents, but only if they're speaking in German, because if they aren't it seems to be a tool to keep your common American moviegoer from relating to the characters.

Don't go into Valkyrie expecting to be greeted with a horrifically bad film that you will be able to poke fun at with friends. The movie has been released, and I feel the rumors, and negative hype of been proven decisively false. This isn't a movie to kill Cruise's career, but it won't help him regain love in the American community either (as previously mentioned he doesn't shine so much as mix in with the rest of the cast). It is a very enjoyable dramatization of a true event, and I don't think the material could have been handled much better, even with a full German cast, because Singer's style and method of conveying this story are all very well-done.

Go out and enjoy this dramatization of one of the darkest periods of human history. It is worth every second of your time, and all though it isn't Oscar-worthy it is certainly worth two-hours of your time.

All Historical Dramas faithful to the actual events run the risk of being dry and boring. Fortunately, although it is a bit dry here and there, the producers of Valkyrie didn't stray too far in that direction. The story is well-told, and I did not feel that it dragged or got into excessive and boring detail at any point. If you are a student of WWII, and particularly this famous failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, you will be pleased with the quality of the film, the acting, and the film's faithfulness to facts and to the tone of the times. The film brings forth many details of which I was not aware, and the historical facts I know-of from past research are accurately portrayed.

It is clear computer graphics are used extensively in this film, since many of the scenes could not have been filmed in any other way, more than 60 years after events took place. The special effects are for the most part well done, and are not intrusive clearly used only as needed to support the story instead of being an excuse to show-off a studio's CGI capabilities.

As for acting, this story was an excellent vehicle for Tom Cruise. I feel Cruise's portrayal of Colonel von Stauffenburg, who was a central figure in the assassination plot and this story, was excellent and believable. Some may argue that the characterization is a bit wooden, but I suspect this may be intentional on Cruise's part, and in keeping with the historical figure: a decorated soldier filled with anger towards Hitler, who could survive in the upper levels of the German Army only by masking his true feelings.

The rest of the cast is phenomenal. I was amazed at the number of familiar and respected actors and actresses that appeared in relatively minor roles throughout the film. Not a single performance was less than I would expect from such a cast.

The film is not a light-hearted one, nor does it end well for most of the characters. There are several bloody scenes, but none of the violence is gratuitous. As such, this is a film that will be appreciated primarily by those interested in the history of WWII, or are solid Tom Cruise fans. I am well pleased with the film as a whole, and feel the end product meets the goals of both the producers and their intended audience. I'll give it Five Stars.

Buy Valkyrie (2008) Now

As a history buff, I was complelled to see this film from the get go. The fact that critics were particularly brutal led me to believe this was indeed an excellent film. I was very pleased to see it stuck to the facts even if some of the details are rather mundane. The cinematography does an excellent job at placing you in the era as if you were a bystander to the events before you.

The acting was simply top notch. Tom Cuise elevated himself with his performance. He was quite believable and true to the accounts of Colonel Stauffenberg. I reject the accounts by critics that this was a Gerry Maguire performance in uniform. The supporting cast is award worthy. it is rare to find a cast that works so seemlessly together. I believe the director deserves particular credit for this achievement.

Bottom line, Valkyrie is a top quality film worthy of your time. Forget what all those bitter, envious critics says, see it for yourself and then judge the film in it's merits.

Read Best Reviews of Valkyrie (2008) Here

This Memorial Day I was thinking about the soldiers of past wars who placed their lives on the line in an attempt to preserve freedom for so many in this country. It seems as if we've used a holiday to salute them but as with many holidays it boils down to sales pitches and day long war film viewing. And it's always the same films. Now a new movie has a chance to be included in that group.

VALKYRIE is the true story about a group of high level German officers in World War II who determined that the only way to save their country was to assassinate Adolph Hitler. These were not the fanatical members of the SS or the Gestapo but every day soldiers who believed in their country who had realized far too late that Hitler was not the man they had hoped for.

The film opens with disillusioned Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) in Africa writing in his journal as he tries to obey orders while at the same time save his men. After finding a possible solution, they are attacked and the official who would help is killed and Stauffenberg is severely wounded, losing a hand, an eye and several fingers.

Returned to Germany, Stauffenberg is placed in a high level position. There, due to his vocal criticism of how things are going, he is recruited to replace a man recently found guilty of treason. General Olbricht (Bill Nighy) has been given the task to find the replacement and thinks he has found the man in Stauffenberg. Truth be told, he has.

A meeting Stauffenberg visits involving those plotting to take over reveals to him that while they have the desire, they don't have the plans in place to do so. Taking out Hitler is one thing, but what do you do afterwards? His research leads him to Operation Valkyrie, a plan set up to bring in the rear guard soldiers stationed in Germany to prevent a coupe or uprising. Once Hitler is killed, this plan goes into effect and the country is then run by whoever controls this army.

The plan is placed in motion, other members of the army are recruited for vital roles and the plan calls for Stauffenberg to detonate a time released bomb inside Wolf's Lair, the bunker Hitler gathers together with his generals to plan the war. A single explosion here would be enough to take out Hitler and many of those faithful to him.

As history has told us, this plan failed. Not because of its execution but due to numerous circumstances. Hitler's moving the meeting from the bunker to a cooler spot, the bomb being placed behind a heavy table plank preventing it from doing him damage, unstable fuses...all contributed.

Without certain knowledge that the bomb had killed Hitler, the organizers follow the lead of Stauffenberg and initiate Valkyrie. Given the time to get it going, the plot might have worked on that level alone, but unfortunately it failed.

Knowing the complete story before seeing the film doesn't detract from the drama that it provides. As I said at the beginning, we are witness to a group of determined men who risked their lives and those of their families to put an end to the rule of a madman. As soldiers they served their country, not Hitler. And when it was obvious that he was insane, they continued to serve their country by trying to take him out.

As an historical document the movie does a decent job of making us believe we are witness to the events as they unfold. Certainly the more dramatic moments where proclamations are yelled before executions are carried out might not be factual but they do inspire. And how does it stand as a movie? Only so so.

As viewers we are bombarded with fast paced images that hold our attention like a giddy schoolchild watching a silver ball bounce back and forth from flipper to bumper in the pinball game that is film. A slower paced film that unfolds slowly isn't likely to hold the attention these days unfortunately. I've often thought that if Alfred Hitchcock were making movies today he'd find himself unemployed. Fast pacing seems to be the rule of thumb now.

For those who are willing to set this aside and watch a good story unfold you'll be rewarded with this film. It not only tells a story that many should be made aware of, it does so as completely as two hours can and is executed to perfection by a cast of stand out actors that is second to none.

Director Bryan Singer made his mark with THE USUAL SUSPECTS and moved on to the super hero genre with X-MEN and SUPERMAN RETURNS. Here he shows he can tackle a real life story and make us interested while adhering to the tale at hand.

VALKYRIE is not a movie for frenetic MTV generation viewers. It is, however, a movie that has earned a spot on the Memorial Day movie list. It's not only the US soldiers that need remembered on those days. It is the men who tried to stop the war as well. And this group deserves credit for doing their best as well.

Want Valkyrie (2008) Discount?

The movie:

Valkyrie tells the tale of a plot to assassinate and overthrow the government of Adolph Hitler. By the time the war was winding down and Germany seemed to be on the losing side, many members of the military felt that suing for peace was the rational course one that Hitler vehemently disagreed with, being set upon a disastrous "fight to the end" course which would end up claiming countless more lives.

Our protagonist in this drama is Count Claus Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a young Catholic Colonel in the German army who is injured in Africa, losing a hand and an eye. Already weary of the war and disdainful of Nazi policies, he is recruited by the resistance led by General Edward Beck (Terence Stamp). Their idea: assassinate Hitler, and then use Hitler's own contingency plan, code-named "Valkyrie," to take control of the government apparatus in Berlin and install economist/politician Carl Goerdeler as chancellor.

The film creates a palpable sense of tension, which is, alas, undercut by the sheer parade of guys in uniform who are not really explained or identified. I would consider myself at least an amateur student of the era, having read all 1150 pages of Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"... and I was still having a little bit of trouble following all the winding machinations of the plot and the players in it.

Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise. Never during the teleplay did I forget that I was watching Tom Cruise. Terence Stamp is very good, and most of the supporting players are fun to watch as well. There are, however, no real particular stand-out or "scenery chewing" performances. It's all very brisk and utilitarian.

Overall, this is a fine movie, but not the kind of period film that really whisks you away to a new time and place (like "The Aviator," "Zodiac" or "Milk"), or has you at the edge of your seat (like "The Dark Knight"). It's moderately entertaining. History buffs will find a lot to like. The average movie-goer will probably come away thinking "yep, those Nazis were pretty bad." Which is too bad, because the message of the film is that there were many Germans who resisted, despite how it might seem to the outside world.

The Blu-Ray:

Any criticism of "Valkyrie" is directed only at the film itself the Blu-Ray is phenomenal. We are presented with a 1.78:1 image (i.e. one that fills a widescreen TV) that possesses exceptional detail. Dust motes after an explosion are visible. Fine facial lines, strands of hair, beads of sweat. The textures of wood, leather, gravel. Beautiful forests and airfields. It's really a top-notch HD experience. Particularly nice is the light but easily apparent film grain that permeates the transfer thankfully not washed away by excessive digital noise reduction, which gives "Valkyrie" a nice film-like appearance on Blu-Ray. Audio is fine as well, with booming explosions, echoing shouts and "heils," all very nicely rendered in the surround space.

What truly amazes me are the quality of the extras a 2 hour documentary is included, in 1080p, explaining the backdrop of the period. It is quite informative. Also included are commentaries, making of segments, and the like. It's amazing that the film looks so good even though there are essentially 4.5 hours of 1080p HD all on one disc. I guess they really used the 50gb capacity of Blu-Ray to its fullest here. It's so nice not to have extras banished to a second disc. Kudos!


Overall, this is a solid genre flick for fans of WWII drama. Those unfamiliar with the setting may be a bit lost during the proceedings, but a fine set of extras will fill them in if they devote the time to them. This is not a classic that will have you thinking about it for days afterward, or have your palms sweating with tension as you watch. But it's a good film that should find an audience with such a solid HD presentation to back it up. The a/v quality is top shelf, and could easily be used as "demo" material to impress friends or customers who are dubious of the benefits of Blu-Ray.

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