Valkyrie… Valkyrie… Valkyrie Profile (SPOILER ALERT)
Valkyrie (2008): 6 out of 10: Roger Ebert pointed out a fundamental problem with Valkerie in his 1975 review of The Hindenburg. “How can you thrill people with the saga of an airship floating across the Atlantic Ocean? We know it is going to blow up over Lakehurst, N.J.; but we also know, alas, that it’s not going to blow up before then.” The story of Valkyrie makes for a kick-ass documentary. It is a fascinating tale; a great map of what ifs and almost happened(s). It is not, however, major motion picture material. I recently read a review of that Jews in the forest movie, Defiance, that Valkerie shared the theater with last December. The Defiance article perceptively pointed out that the story of people not being found by Nazis does not, by itself, naturally lend itself to a proper film treatment. The story of people (SPOILER ALERT) not blowing up Hitler also runs into this same problem.
Now, not all films that have a forgone historical conclusion need to fall into this trap. Titanic, for example, hits the iceberg reasonably quickly and successfully shoehorned a love triangle to give the audience a reason to pay attention. (Lightning did not strike twice as Pearl Harbor tried the same trick too much ridicule.) Titanic is but one example; Apollo 13 made us care about the characters to where we forgot that everything would work out. Apollo 13 was about more than just a retread of what happened. Too often Valkerie comes across as a strange documentary where all the Nazi’s are British. While the story is fascinating in its own right, we do not go to the movies just to see what happens. We want to feel for the characters as well.
Tom Cruise took a lot of flak for making Valkerie. It overall was undeserved. Though his performance failed to reach the audience emotionally, one could hardly place the entire fault at Cruise’s doorstep. The script did not give him much to do. Valkyrie is, unfortunately, a this happened then that happened story with little emotional reflection. Both Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy seem more out of place in the film than Cruise. (Also, why exactly again, outside of Cruise, are all the Nazis British? Wouldn’t that be like a Japanese cast playing Chinese peasants in a Rape of Nanking drama?)
Speaking of British Nazis, Britain’s 2006 Equality legislation may have been in the filmmaker’s mind as they shoehorned poor Carice van Houten in as Cruise’s wife and basically the only woman in the cast. She sticks out. For one thing, she does not even look British and speaks with a weird continental accent. Oh and the script drops her as a character just when it would be useful to give us a reason to care about the (SPOILER ALERT) Germans’ failure to kill Hitler.