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More Info:At the absolute height of World War II, German generals hatch a daring plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler and effectively render the German war machine impotent. Directed by Bryan Singer, Valkyrie stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the real-life mastermind behind the elaborate plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow his government from the inside.
In the 13 years since Bryan Singer entertained audiences with his cleverly scripted crime saga The Usual Suspects, he has become one of the most competent directors of taut action scenes. X-Men, X2 and Superman Returns helped turn the director of more story-driven dramas such as 1993’s Public Access and 1998’s Apt Pupil into a confidently sure-handed conductor of big-budget spectacle, a filmmaker who knows that expert pacing and staging of action sequences is as integral as the size and volume of the explosion. And it’s that consummate professional at the helm of Valkyrie that makes it such a surprisingly entertaining action thriller.
Surprising only because it certainly doesn’t sound like that good of a time: The very idea of Tom Cruise and his chiseled, insincere grin starring as the proverbial "good" Nazi—an officer who plots to kill Adolf Hitler—is enough to toss most moviegoers off their lunch. Coupling that casting call to history’s built-in outcome—spoiler alert: Hitler isn’t thwarted by German officers—suggests a fairly boilerplate movie.
But Singer isn’t trying to a make a World War II movie that addresses the big, moral and existential issues of the 20th century. Instead, he treats the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler—planned by Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), along with a cadre of other disgruntled Nazi officers played by a British
Ocean’s Eleven-like team of Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson—as a simple task of some good guys trying to get a bad guy. Yes, that’s right: Valkyrie is really just Mission: Really Impossible.
Co-scripted by Singer and his
Usual Suspects partner Christopher McQuarrie, Valkyrie feels more like a generously budgeted ’70s flick that uses WWII more as a backdrop for a good B-movie, such as Kelly’s Heroes. Only instead of trying to make off with some Nazi treasure, Valkyrie is inspired by an actual man (von Stauffenberg) and an actual plot. Fortunately, Singer and McQuarrie don’t let too much history get in the way of a briskly-paced thriller, complete with surreptitiously planting bombs, key players perhaps playing both sides of the fence and the inevitable—see: spoiler alert, above—thwarted plans. That this outcome is guaranteed at the outset actually makes this gripping tale all the more tense: When do they get caught? Does somebody betray them? What happens when they’re found out?
Given that von Stauffenberg and crew were committing treason, execution is the ultimate endgame here, which does put a bit of a downer coda on the preceding thrill ride. Then again,
Valkyrie is a film with Nazis, and movies that have both Nazis and something resembling a happy ending usually star Humphrey Bogart or Mel Brooks.