It would certainly be nice to be able to say Bryan Singer's take on the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Der Fuhrer is eye-popping excitement. It certainly would. But even with the glass orb the film's star, Tom Cruise, keeps installing and then detaching from his socket, the most I can rev up is eye-popping dreariness.
The main problem here is that everyone knows the ending before the film begins. Hitler survives the hit job only to commit suicide during the final hours of World War II. So how do you make the actions of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) and his buddies gripping?Building up characters with superb acting and raising morality issues with exceptional dialogue are two possibilities. Take this season's Frost/Nixon. What sounds as though it would be as intriguing as a blind date with an H&R Block accountant -- a talk show host interviews a despondent ex-president -- is a gripping entertainment of the first magnitude due to vibrant performances and witty, devastating chitchat.
But with a cardboard Cruise at the core of Valkyrie, you just never care. This film dies within its first five minutes and never gets resuscitated. Even losing an eye, part of his right arm, and several fingers on his left hand do not arouse sympathy.
On second thought, that is sort of an accomplishment.
As for the dialogue:
"Hitler is not only the archenemy of the German people but the archenemy of the world."
"One cannot understand National Socialism if one cannot understand Wagner."
"God promised not to destroy Sodom if there were ten righteous men."
And, discussing a painting of Hitler, someone notes, "This portrait will be un-hung and the man will be hung."
Worse, there's the absurdity of Cruise intoning to Adolph in his broad American accent, "My Fuhrer, if I may . . ." while the rest of the Germans are sounding as if they're auditioning for Henry Higgins in a touring company of My Fair Lady.
Singer, who is clearly a master of several other genres (e.g. Usual Suspects; X-Men), and Cruise, who can act (e.g. Tropic Thunder, Magnolia), are clearly over their heads in this production while treading upon ours. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.