Saturday, January 9, 2010

“Valkyrie” – Irony is fun.

Back around Christmas of 2008, I was trying to decide which World War II movie to go see, “Defiance” or “Valkyrie.” The two main factors were plot and actors. “Defiance” is a film about a group of Belarusian Jews hiding and living in the forest, starring Daniel Craig. “Valkyrie” is a film about a plot to assassinate Hitler, starring Tom Cruise. I’d like to say that it was the human survival story of “Defiance” that ultimately made my decision, but in the end I just didn’t want to take a chance on paying to be annoyed by Tom Cruise. After seeing both films, I can say with no doubt that “Defiance” is a superior film and just for the record, I like Daniel Craig much more than Tom Cruise. But we’re here to talk about “Valkyrie,” so I’ll get on with it.

Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who disagrees with Nazism and ends up leading a plot to assassinate Hitler in July of 1943. The film begins in Tunisia, where von Stauffenberg is injured during an air raid. He is sent back to Germany to recover and for reassignment, as he is missing his right hand, right eye, and only has the index and middle finger remaining on his left hand. I mention this because even if the injuries were historically accurate, they served no purpose in the film, other than special effects. I think the director, Brian Singer, just wanted to have a “Heil Hitler” with a missing hand.

(I bet everyone in the room thought it would be “totally awesome” when the idea was pitched. It’s Hollywood. How could they resist?)

After an earlier attempt to kill Hitler failed, the group responsible recruits von Stauffenberg to try again. Cruise immediately accepts (I say Cruise here, because it was apparent at this point that he had no intentions of portraying the actual von Stauffenberg, proving that his ego is now slightly more inflated than a zeppelin) and comes up with the new plan; exploding a bomb in Hitler’s secret bunker and engaging Operation Valkyrie, Hitler’s emergency plans for securing Berlin, to secure Berlin.

The big question with this movie, is why to see it since the plan is obviously a failure (if you didn’t know this going in, I bet you were surprised during “Titanic” and you should probably read up on Amelia Earhart before seeing “Amelia”). I can’t really give you a good reason, other than it’s a convenient opportunity to learn something about World War II without actually having to read. The movie is a typical Hollywood action/drama with the drawback of the audience already knowing what’s going to happen. They don’t give you any reason to really feel sorry for the conspirators, especially since it seems their only real motivation is that they know Germany is going to lose the war. We’re supposed to believe they are doing it for moral purposes, but the filmmakers don’t try to make us believe this. During one of the meetings, they tell us that if they can negotiate with the Allies, they keep the conquests intact. Morally-guided my ass.

Given that there’s not much to take from the film, other than a little bit of history, the most interesting thing about this film is that it almost didn’t get made. When the filmmakers made a request to the German government to film in Germany, they were initially denied. They, along with some of von Stauffenberg’s family, dislike scientology and did not want Tom Cruise in their country. In fact, they regard scientology as little more than a cult. I find it ironic that von Stauffenberg is supposed to have been a very moral man, had issues with the Holocaust, yet his family didn’t want Cruise to portray him because of Cruise’s religious beliefs. I guess old habits die hard.

Rating: I waited until DVD to see this film and I was proven right. It’s worth maybe four dollars at a theater.

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