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