After a repeatedly delayed release, problems with casting, and eventually, a whole host of well-known names led by that most famous and ridiculed of all, Tom Cruise, Valkyrie seemed a project that would not make it past the reviews. Set in July of 1944, the story is that of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a German army officer who becomes disillusioned by Hitler’s Nazi regime. Seeing how it has destroyed his country, he joins a band of resistance fighters of both senior officers and politicians who plan to kill Hitler.
Aside from an opening air attack sequence, during which von Stauffenberg loses an eye, fingers and hand, Valkyrie is ultimately a film about the plotting and behind-the-scenes events leading up to the assassination attempt. There are no big action scenes; rather, Christopher McQuarrie’s script provides an atmospheric tension that pervades throughout the film. With a palate of mainly grey to work with, the despair of the conspirators and ’40s Germany is beautifully captured.
Unsurprisingly, Tom Cruise’s performance is the film’s biggest problem. It is impossible to fully see him as von Stauffenberg — just Tom Cruise, in yet another crusading character role, and it feels as though his main purpose is to bring in box office receipts.
Although his ego gets in the way at times, it is still mercifully unable to detract from the other performances, from heavyweights like Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Terence Stamp, each of whom make up for Cruise’s show-boating. As co-conspirators, the ensemble provides fascinating insight into the lives of the men in situations where cunning and deceit meant the difference between life and death, and their failure, rather than seeming boringly inevitable, raises the interesting question of what would have happened had the plan succeeded.