A nerve wracking suspense film like few others!
Bryan Singer’s historical war drama Valkyrie (2008) depicts the failed assassination plot against Adolf Hitler with a nuanced character study alongside riveting espionage and intrigue. Despite Singer’s personal issues, Valkyrie remains one of my favorite war films ever. It is every bit as tense and sweat inducing as when I first watched Valkyrie.
His direction is compelling for a 2 hour run-time of mostly setup for a botched bombing. Valkyrie makes great use of its running time with a quick pace of engaging dialogue and magnetic performances. Christopher McQuarrie’s script is filled with deep character motivations, complex character types, and a neatly structured out explanation of assassination plot. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is really cool as it focuses on the faces of the men involved in each scene. As conspirators convene, their faces will either be shot close-up for emotional reveals or across tables and in between people for a realistic cramped space feel.
John Ottman’s score helps drive the emotional weight of the massive scale coup attempt in Germany during World War II. The dark melodies from Ottman fly through the air as troops ready themselves for a hostile takeover after Hitler’s supposed death. The music aides Valkyrie’s unbelievable tense situations as every scene is more suspenseful than the last!
Tom Cruise is fantastic in Valkyrie and the heart of the film. His dramatic portrayal of German hero Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who conceived of Operation Valkyrie. His use of an eye patch, eye contact, hand make-up, and stern vocal command make Cruise’s performance so gripping. Cruise is capable of a cinematic energy that few film stars can compete with when he is on top of his game. Valkyrie is one such film wherein Cruise commands your attention every second he is on screen with a heavy gravitas and undeniable presence. I hope Tom Cruise continues to pick dramatic acting opportunities like Valkyrie as this film remains one of my favorite Cruise roles. Cruise gave Stauffenberg the brave, intellectual, and heroic portrayal he deserved for standing up to Hitler.
Valkyrie boasts a massive cast of talented actors. Namely, Carice van Houten is wonderful as Nina von Stauffenberg. She has a nice chemistry with Tom Cruise that immediately makes you like her. Houten finds an emotional center as a troubled wife and mother, who had to bravely stand aside. Kenneth Branagh sets off the plan’s organization in a brief, yet memorable part as Major-General Henning von Tresckow. Bill Nighy is excellent as the cowardly and nervous General Friedrich Olbricht, who understandably was nervous about Operation Valkyrie, but did the right thing in the end.
Furthermore, Tom Wilkinson is fearsome as the loathsome traitor Nazi General Friedrich Fromm. Wilkinson has never been this scary. Thomas Kretschmann as Major Otto Ernst Remer gets a quick role as the commander in charge of arrests after Operation Valkyrie. He provides a perspective into the mind of a Nazi during a tumultuous moment in German history.
Then, Terence Stamp is stalwart as General Ludwig Beck, who supported Operation Valkyrie from the beginning despite the risk for him all for his love of country. Eddie Izzard makes an awesome dramatic turn as the communications General Erich Fellgiebel. Izzard gets you to completely buy him as a serious dramatic actor. Fellgiebel severed all communications from Hitler’s compound as ordered, unfortunately it was too late. I should mention Tom Hollander is frightening and particular as Colonel Heinz Brandt as he suspects Tom Cruise from his scrupulous observations.
Lastly, I have to commend David Bamber for his uncanny depiction of Adolf Hitler. There is so much documentation and speculation around the most notorious dictator in human history, but Bamber gives his portrayal a quiet menace. Hitler’s inner fury and madness is all in Bamber’s eyes and remarks. He delivers a very difficult acting role to elevate Valkyrie further up in the sky like Wagner’s folk figures.
Overall, Valkyrie holds up as an educational historical film, a suspenseful espionage plot, and a compelling series of performances in this WWII drama.