Sunday, December 28, 2008
Bryan Singer needs to stop making comic book movies.
That’s right. I am calling Bryan Singer out to stop jumping on board with the likes of X-Men and Superman Returns and keep up with what he does best – movies about bad guys and characters in impossible situations – movies like The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie.
I have been waiting for Valkryie with baited breath for over a year because it is made by the team that made my favorite film The Usual Suspects - Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. However, the film was bounced around like a ping pong ball and rumors were flying about it to the point that I was fully prepared to hate the film, but I have a soft spot for Singer and had to give it the benefit of a doubt and so I saw it as soon as possible after Christmas was done.
To begin my review I feel that I need to begin with what the audience and the studio believes are the flaws of the film: the lack of the German language, Nazi’s as protagonists and Tom Cruise.
I was one of the many people that was upset that Valkyrie very obviously ignored the use of German in the film and instead gave all of the character American accents. In a day and age where we can make humans fly on broomsticks in a magical game called quidditch it seems fitting that a group of actors playing characters based on real Germans should at least fake an accent if they can’t fake the language. I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. I thought the lack of a German “feel” to the language was going to drive me insane as I watched the film – but it didn’t. In fact the way Singer manages to get around the use of the language points out how incredibly strange it would have been to watch the entire film with such familiar multi-national actors speaking a language not at all similar to their own, and for the sticklers German writing is all over the film and in the beginning of the film Tom Cruise actually does do a voice over in German and that slowly fades into English – the opening credits are even done in German and English.
The largest obstacle to the plot of the film and to the studio being able to market Valkyrie is the mere fact that all of the characters are Germans in World War II, all fighting for mother Germany. Almost everyone around the world has been universally brought up to believe that all German’s of that era were Nazi’s, evil to the core and Hitler’s minions. This subconscious thinking is inescapable to the studio, and yet something that must be faced because this story is real. You cannot substitute G.I.’s in place of Germans – this is a remarkable true story of a group of German soldiers and politicians who say Hitler for the evil he was and were bold and brave enough to try and do something to stop it. The other giant obstacle that studio faces in this film, and what Singer and McQuarrie faced is the fact that if you’ve been alive in the past handful of decades you know that Hitler lived until the end of the war and was only killed when he committed suicide – in other words the characters in Valkyrie are defeated and anyone paying attention to the concept of the film knows this going in. It is incredibly hard to make a film where you audience already knows the ending but somehow Singer and McQuarrie manage to still create tension and empathy where none should exist. That is a skill that cannot be taught and must be viewed by anyone who appreciates great efforts in filmmaking.
Finally, the last and what some might argue to be the biggest obstacle in Valkyrie’s path is Tom Cruise. While Cruise was once the biggest movie star in the world his ego and eccentricies got the better of his public image in the past five or so years and his star has gotten more and more tarnished. Luckily, Cruise has finally figured out that he needs to stop touting what no one wants to hear and start being the movie star we all used to love. He started this with Tropic Thunder and the buzz was so great around him for that film that the studio finally dared release Valkyrie at a time that would help it instead of hinder it.
Don’t let the image Cruise has created in the media recently get in the way of your opinion of the acting. Remember that this is the man nominated for Oscars for multiple films, and a man that should have won one for his performance in Magnolia - Cruise is capable of being more than you think he can be. In Valkyrie Cruise once again returns to dramatic acting and he is fabulous. While I do not think that Valkyrie is his best role it is an amazing, conflicted character that he plays and he plays it expertly. Stauffenberg was a man torn between his love for his country and the oath he swore to a man he hated and Cruise pulls that off in a way that makes you wish this German soldier had been able to succeed in a treasonous act.
While this review may have rambled on for far too long it still cannot express accurately how much I loved and was enthralled with Valkyrie. While I no longer hold hope that this movie will get the critical acclaim it deserves, I can hope that at least the film will reach DVD before too long and gain the large following it deserves. I hope that Singer and Cruise take a note from Valkyrie and each return to the roots of their careers and do what they do so well.
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander
Colonel Stauffenberg: Tom Cruise
Major-General Tresckow: Kenneth Branagh
General Olbricht: Bill Nighy
General Fromm: Tom Wilkinson
Nina von Stauffenberg: Carice van Houten
Major Remer: Thomas Kretschmann
Ludwig Beck: Terence Stamp
General Fellgiebel: Eddie Izzard
Dr. Goerdeler: Kevin McNally
Colonel Quirnheim: Christian Berkel
Hitler: David Bamber
Colonel Brandt: Tom Hollander
Henning von Tresckow: We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany.