Review of VALKYRIE

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My pal Eric went to a screening of Valkyrie last night and turned in this review.

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Valkyrie is a tight, very well-acted thriller with a passionate performance from Tom Cruise as Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg. I couldn’t help, though, but wonder if maybe the film would have been better served by a different actor in this role, with Cruise staying on the sidelines as a producer. It’s not entirely his fault; he’s just not a talented enough actor to lose his innate All-American vibe. It made me feel as though Col. Stauffenberg was an American who had infiltrated Nazi ranks, which would be an entirely different movie.

2008_valkyrie_005Bryan Singer’s latest directorial effort is based on the true story of the 15th and final attempt by Adolf Hitler’s regime to assassinate him. Since most of us know how Hitler died, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that this attempt failed. With this in mind, it is surprising how much the script ratchets up the tension throughout the film to keep us on the edge of our seats while we watch the inevitable play out in front of us.

I say the script is compelling and not the filmmaker because, for me, one flaw keeps this movie from achieving the level of entertainment it deserves: the accents.

According to writer/producer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), who did Q & A at the screening I attended, Cruise showed up on set with a flawless German accent and a vocal coach to help him stay on track. Cruise opens the movie narrating in German with English subtitles, but after a few lines of hesitant-sounding German, he drops it abruptly and starts speaking English in his familiar, very American accent. Did the filmmakers, recalling their star’s accent trouble in Far and Away, decide to play it safe?

McQuarrie says the filmmakers had complete confidence in Cruise’s ability, but felt having the entire cast adopt German accents would be asking for trouble, since it would invariably sound uneven and the audience might focus on how much it resembles a Mel Brooks comedy. So, the actors were told to speak in their normal accents. But if we are to believe McQuarrie, then why didn’t David Bamber—a consummate K. BRANAGHBritish actor who portrayed Hitler with a focused, intimidating stillness and perfect German intonations—speak with an English accent? It’s also hard to believe that the other very talented British actors—Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Kenneth Branagh, Bernard Hill—wouldn’t have been capable of pulling off a convincing German accent. Their British-ness, in addition to Cruise’s Yank persona, forced me to constantly remind myself that the group trying to assassinate Hitler wasn’t part of an American-British coalition, but Germans desperately trying to wrest control of their beloved Germany from the hands of a monster.

Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is top-notch; the costumes by Joanna Johnston are inventive, specifically the military uniforms, which are unique yet cohesive.

Rating: Okay

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8 responses to “Review of VALKYRIE

  1. I haven’t seen it yet (of course!) but I can imagine what you’re describing and I think it would be pretty distracting for me. As you say, surely the fine Brit cast could pull off German accents. I’m baffled if Christopher McQuarrie thinks some irregular German accents could make the audience focus on how much it resembles a Mel Brooks comedy … does that mean he thinks it Does resemble one and he doesn’t want them to notice?

  2. Yeah….I was wondering about how Cruise would come off as a German. Baaaaaaad casting if you ask me, but I guess if you are the head of the studio producing the film, you can do whatever you f**king want. Ugh!!

  3. Tom Cruise playing a German? Give me a break. No wonder they wouldn’t let him do an accent.

  4. Wow! How do you get to see all these screenings early?

  5. Christopher McQuarrie

    I like to think the answers I gave in that two-hour Q&A were candid and thorough – down to admitting mistakes I’d made as a filmmaker throughout my career. I wasn’t there to sell or spin a film. I was there to share my experiences as a screenwriter with a roomful of other writers. I also expressly stated I would answer any question regarding any rumor surrounding this film. All anyone had to do was ask. This can be verified by anyone that listens to the podcast when it is released in a few weeks.

    In response, you choose to imply that I am a liar and that anything you don’t like about Valkyrie is the fault of the film’s star. How very pioneering of you.

    You could have asked a follow-up question regarding the issue of accents, either during the Q&A or privately after the event, in which case I would have explained why David Bamber and Bryan Singer made the choices they did in Mr. Bamber’s portrayal of Hitler.

    I will save that answer for someone with the thoroughness (or the guts) to ask.

    The truth is, Valkyrie is the sum-total of choices made by the film-makers. The only thing you can blame Tom Cruise for is giving us the opportunity to make a film no one else ever would have.

    But what would that have left you to write about on your blog?

    Christopher McQuarrie

    • Mr. McQuarrie,

      Thank you for writing. Since I did not attend the screening, the review was submitted by one of my contributors (as stated at the beginning). He responds:

      Hello, Mr. McQuarrie,

      If this is truly you, then let me just say I am honored.

      You did state you would address rumors at the Q & A and I believe you did. My review of the film and my subsequent comments had nothing to do with rumors.

      When I asked why actors portraying Germans in a movie that was based on a true story weren’t all using German accents, you said the accents would all be uneven and that it would come off as a Mel Brooks comedy. It was not my intention to imply that you are a liar and I never said anything about spinning; I merely repeated your response. I was saying that your answer makes no sense to me. If Valkyrie were meant to be a comedy, I could understand how a comparison could be made to a Mel Brooks film.

      As for attacking your star, I don’t feel I did. I spoke of his innate American vibe. Tom Cruise is All-American and he has yet to show the world he is anything but. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but to have him play a German and not give him a chance to prove himself by doing an accent does not show much confidence in his ability. Everything about Cruise’s portrayal is distinctly American.

      As I stated in my review, the film is well-written and I commend you as its writer. But since you also took on the role of producer, reluctantly or not, you share responsibility for not insisting that actors who portrayed Germans at least use a German accent.

      As for why I didn’t ask a follow up question: At a post-screening Q & A, the audience is usually allowed only one question per person so that all might get a chance to ask something. My question was answered in such a dismissive manner, coupled with Jeff Goldsmith cutting me off by agreeing with you and citing The Hunt For Red October as an example, that I had no chance to ask a follow-up question. I also thought approaching you after the Q & A would’ve been pointless since I was given no indication you had more to say on the matter. If you will allow me to ask that question now, I’d still love to hear the reasoning behind why some actors spoke with a German accent and others didn’t.

      So, once again I say that Valkyrie is a good film that holds your interest, but your well-written script was not fully served by the very talented cast.

  6. Bit of a touchy response to an even-handed examination. But in his defense, feelings right now must be very much on edge in the Valkyrie camp. They must have hated reading those Button reviews, especially in light of the mixed bag their film is getting (and heaven forbid if they have been checking out comments being posted about Cruise in reaction to items on general media portals).

  7. I would like to make a comment on this issue of foreign accents.
    I have already read several reviews saying: ” I liked the story but the acting was not good, they did not have German accents”.
    May I point out that whatever they did, they would NOT have been able to have real German accents?
    The main actors were mostly english-speaking except for Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann. How can you expect them to sound German? Please remember that there are sounds in german that english people can’t even pronounce. What is the point of emulating a german accent if the actors can’t even say the words “Führer” or “Adolf Hitler” correctly?
    So McQuarrie’s answer about Mel Brooks films is quite relevant in fact: any english-speaking actor attempting to emulate a german accent (or french, or italian, or whatever…) sounds like comedy (and a very cliche one at that) to a lot of non-english speaking people.

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