25 December 2008



When it comes to fact-based movies, I'm not a stickler. When a filmmaker fudges the details, I'm OK with it, as long as the changes are done to make the movie better and don't alter history.

So when a movie comes along about a German plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler—with exclusively German characters—I don't care that the dialogue is in English. I don't even mind that the characters don't speak with German accents. (And they shouldn't; after all, foreigners don't sit around in their own country speaking to each other in accented English.)

In Valkyrie, Tom Cruise, as the assassination plot ringleader Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, sounds exactly like, well, Tom Cruise. British actors Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy and Eddie Izzard sound like—you can probably figure it out. Other actors, such as David Bamber as Hitler, speak in German accents.

I'm only looking for a little consistency. It's distracting when everyone speaks in a different accent. It makes it even harder to get into a movie that already must overcome a large, fundamental problem.

The little-known story of the German resistance should be told. "We have to show the world that not all of us are like him," says Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Branagh, who is greatly missed after making an early exit). "Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany."

Stauffenberg: "I'm a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience."

It's July 1944. D-Day has come and gone. A growing number of Germans realize the war is lost and the only way to save many lives is to negotiate a truce as soon as possible—which will never happen with Hitler in power.

The plan is fairly simple: Use a bomb to assassinate the f├╝hrer and initiate "Operation Valkyrie," Hitler's plan to install a shadow government in the event of his death. The conspirators, spreading the word that the SS is staging a coup, will use Hitler's own reserve army to secure Berlin and put their new government in place.

Crucial to the plan's success is the cooperation of Gen. Friedrich Fromm (Wilkinson), commander of the reserve army.

Stauffenberg, who is only in Berlin because he was severely wounded in North Africa (losing his left eye, right hand and two fingers on his left hand), becomes the man to both deliver the bomb and direct the conspiracy once the plot is in motion.

The major issue with Valkyrie is this: We know the conspirators did not succeed in their plot. They know that if they fail, the overwhelming odds are that they will be caught and executed. So we can see where this is going. Generating suspense along the way is a difficult task for director Bryan Singer and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (who also collaborated with Singer on The Usual Suspects) and Nathan Alexander. The early planning stages of the assassination are far more compelling than the attempt itself.

Though lacking in character development, Valkyrie is a competently made film and the acting, even from a seemingly miscast Cruise and especially from Branagh and Nighy, is uniformly strong. The movie looks good and seems to hit all the right notes, yet never quite connects or resonates like it should.

It's a good try by Singer, Cruise and company, but like Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, they are doomed to failure.

Grade: C-

(Rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. 120 minutes.)

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