Valkyrie Special Edition
- Release Date:May 27, 2009
- The Film:4.0
- The Disc:3.5
Much of the pre-release hustle-and-bustle surrounding Valkyrie was focused on whether or not audiences would...
Much of the pre-release hustle-and-bustle surrounding Valkyrie was focused on whether or not audiences would cop Tom Cruise as a Nazi. Thankfully, most viewers seemed able to hurdle this initially incongruous piece of casting. The canny, sensible direction of the eminently talented Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns) quickly neutralised these seemingly over-riding concerns. Within the film's ingenious opening sequences, Singer quickly establishes that the movie's characters - all Nazi officers during WW2 - are actually speaking German, so does away with the preposterous contrivance of having them actually speak with German accents. So yes, Tom Cruise does maintain his American accent, but within the set-up of the film, that works just fine, and makes perfect sense. Add to that the fact that he gives a fine, multi-layered performance, and all initial qualms should be quickly brushed away.
Cruise plays Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, one of a highly connected cabal of Nazi officers (played by an absolute who's who of great British actors: Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McNally, Tom Hollander and many more) increasingly disillusioned and horrified by the actions of their Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, at the tail end of WW2. Putting their lives on the line, the clandestine committee engineers a complex plot to not only assassinate Hitler, but also to destabilise his entire regime by triggering Operation Valkyrie, an internal emergency measure designed to alter The Third Reich's power structure in a time of absolute desperation. It's a finely detailed plot, and director Singer unwinds it in such an effective manner that the audience always knows exactly what's going on, and why the characters are doing what they're doing.
Yes, we know that the assassination plot fails (knowing the story's ending certainly didn't affect Titanic or The Passion Of The Christ), and it's a testament to Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander's cogent, keenly observed, and intensely researched script, and Singer's tightly controlled direction, that the film remains so utterly compelling. They give Valkyrie such a drive and sense of excitement that you want to know how and why the plot fails; they also develop the assassination plot's main players to such an extent that you actually really care about what will become of them when their brave tilt at knocking Hitler inevitably fails. Von Stauffenberg's relationship with his wife (Black Book showstopper Carice Van Houten) and family is especially well played, actually adding to the film's sense of suspense, while giving it further resonance. It's this sense of sadness and impending doom that really sets this finely constructed wartime thriller apart: Valkyrie both excites and moves, and that's always something deserving of applause.
Though not packed with special features (that would be the Blu-ray), there's still plenty on the DVD to sate fans of the film. While clocking in at just fifteen minutes, the making-of doco "The Journey To Valkyrie" effectively covers all the bases. "Every project that I take, there has to be a reason for it, says Bryan Singer. "It has to be cathartic." Valkyrie was brought to this WW2 enthusiast by his childhood friend and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who was inspired after seeing a memorial to the conspirators in Berlin. The pair had made ersatz WW2 films in their youth, and Valkyrie represented the fulfillment of a dream. "Look! We've got better uniforms, and real planes," laughs Singer. The featurette also covers the difficulties that the production encountered while filming in Germany, as well as the effect that the recreation of WW2-era Berlin had on the city's residents, many of whom still bear scars - both emotional and physical - from the period.
The 45-minute doco "The Valkyrie Legacy" was produced by Bryan Singer for The History Channel, and provides not just an in-depth look at the real life assassination plot to kill Hitler, but also at its aftermath, much of which is not included in Valkyrie. Through interviews with historians and surviving family members of the conspirators (including Von Stauffenberg's daughter and son), we learn of Hitler's brutal response to the attempt on his life, as he rounds up anyone remotely connected (or presumed to be connected) to the plot, and subjects them to torture, persecution and laughably one-sided public trials. It's a tough watch, but effectively fills in many of the other details of the Valkyrie story.
The disc's undoubted highlights are its two audio commentaries. Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie are all enjoyably pumped, practically talking over each other with enthusiasm and excitement. Their commitment to the project is palpable as they detail their exhaustive research, the subtle use of CGI (note Cruise's glass eye), and their purpose in bringing the story to the screen. "This is not a history lesson," says Tom Cruise. "This is a film about trying to kill Hitler. It's a suspense film." Singer also amusingly admits that he pulled his entire cast from just four films: Pirates Of The Caribbean, Black Book, Downfall and the acclaimed TV movie Conspiracy. It's a great listen, as is the second track: a more reserved but equally informative affair featuring McQuarrie and co-writer Nathan Alexander, who delve even further into the film's exhaustive research process.