Movie Review: Valkyrie

Posted: May 17, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

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Valkyrie (2008 United Artists Dir. Bryan Singer)

This is going to be different than a lot of the reviews I’ve done here were I describe the movie and my reactions to it as I go. This time I’m going to just talk about my impressions as I watched the movie two days ago and I’m not in a real hurry to watch it again just to give you a blow by blow. Besides, there isn’t much wrong with this movie, so there’s not much to make fun of. I can’t be snarky at the movie and needle it, because it’s well made and held my interest every time I’ve seen it. You can take that as an ‘above the fold’ review if you want. I liked it. I don’t do stars, or numbers, or anything like that so I can’t quantify the argument without explanation. Suffice to say though, I enjoyed this movie.



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It’s interesting how sometimes an actor’s personality takes over for their ability. Even if you want to see a movie with, say for example Harrison Ford, it’s hard to separate him from the character. You may not even remember the character’s name and just refer to him as “Harrison Ford” when discussing the movie. There are times when I don’t remember a character’s name at the end of a movie, even a main character. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I don’t connect with the character or they just don’t say his name enough for me to remember. The point I’m trying to get to is that Tom Cruise often ends up just being “Tom Cruise” in a movie because he’s playing his stock persona rather than a character. Then you’ve got movies like this and you go “Oh, right, Tom Cruise can act sometimes” like it’s a huge surprise. I’ve not always been his biggest fan, but I’ll admit that I like his work well enough most the time. Oddly, I haven’t been a real big Bryan Singer fan either. I wasn’t impressed by the X-Men movies, and Superman Returns was really sort of dull. This was a good thriller though, an interesting movie with good, solid performances.

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What you have here is a fairly accurate portrayal of one of the plots to kill Adolph Hitler, and the one that came closest to actually pulling it off. The movie portrays German soldiers in a way we haven’t seen in a while. These days, most video games and movies show Germans as all being Nazis. They were, according to the current crop, a unified body all in love with Hitler and they all jerked off to the swastika every night. This is a complete fallacy though. Many Germans, particularly career military men disliked the Nazi party and despised Hitler. They may have been in the minority, but they where there. Since actual party membership got to around 8 million in a country of around 80 million, that means that only ten percent of the country actually belonged to the party. Some in the military only joined up because after Hitler took power it was the only real gateway to advancement.

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The point I’m making here, and it’s the point the movie wants to make, is that everyone in Germany wasn’t evil. There are characters in old World War II movies that used to do that. We used to get the somewhat sympathetic prison warden in The Great Escape or any other number of examples of good Germans… who were so memorable I’m totally blanking on them right now. Look, I remember seeing quite a few World War Two movies as a kid… okay, I probably saw ALL the World War Two movies EVER MADE as a kid. Dad had a thing for those and westerns, alright? Point is that I remember there being quite a lot of Good Germans in the movies made in the 1960s particularly. Back in those days, Germans were falling over each other in those movies to explain that they weren’t all animals. That vanished after a while and the depiction of Germans between 1933 and 1945 became annoyingly one-note. Well, this is a different depiction of the men who lived within that state, one where the notes at least have some variation.

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Now, I’m not an expert on the Third Reich, and I only know a bit about the bomb plot. What I do know about the history though, they seem to follow it very closely. There are some changes, mostly to make the narrative flow a little more easily, but for the most part the facts are there. This is close enough to my understanding of the events (again with some omissions and substitutions to fit the constraints of a two-hour movie) that I can put my stamp of “Pretty Good History” on it. It’s not just a matter of events, the world they live in is complete and of the time. There are a lot of historical movies that fail on many of the small details, I don’t want to call anyone out, but Pubic Enemies contains a few instances of modern elevated trains traveling through Chicago. It’s not even like you could make an argument about them, those are the modern trains passing by. Sorry, it just bugged me and I’m probably not going to review that one any time soon so I had to mention it here.

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However, I noticed no such mistakes in this movie and I keep a look out for them. There is actually a scene that struck me, where Hitler mentions something about Wagner and mythology to Stauffenberg, hardly reading the brief he’s been handled, and talking more about the symbolism of a name than the project itself. While that might seem contrived with any other leader, with Hitler it fits because all the contemporary descriptions of him include comments about him being exactly like that. Evidently, some of the omissions in the movie were made because they were worried about seeming contrived. In reality, Stauffenberg refused morphine while in hospital and was apparently something of a philosopher, but these things would have seemed like Hollywood gamesmanship so they were left out of the film. The end result of the omissions doesn’t damage the movie though, since in many ways the movie doesn’t rely on Stauffenberg’s personality. Instead, it depends more on his professionalism and ability to lead. His reasons for why he joins this conspiracy to kill Hitler, rather than any other solution, aren’t explored as much as they could be, but it doesn’t really matter.

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Now, let’s talk about cast. This is one of the better ensemble casts I’ve seen in sometime. What I found interesting watching this the first time is how many people in this movie have played Nazis before. Kenneth Branagh, Kevin McNally, and Ian McNeice were all in Conspiracy together, while Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann were in Downfall. There are four actors from Black Book, but as I haven’t seen it I don’t know if they played Nazis in that or not. I know I should see that, several people have told me that it’s very good, I just haven’t yet. By the way, for 50 bonus points there is an actor named Florian Panzner who was also in Conspiracy. I just mention that because they mention how there is a fourth actor in this that was also in that movie but they wouldn’t say who. No, I didn’t look obsessively after they mentioned that. I had already looked obsessively before and knew who it was when they mentioned it. Special shout out also goes to Eddie Izzard, who always surprises me when he’s in something. I’m not sure why that should be, since every time I’ve seen him in a movie it’s been in a dramatic role, but it is always a pleasant surprise seeing him working so well.

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The actual bombing plot doesn’t even enter into the movie until we’re almost half way though. We spend the first half of the movie just getting to know everyone and setting up the situation. Once the decision to kill Hitler is made and the plan to do it with the bomb and use Operation Valkyrie to stage the coup, everything is subservient to that. We have few scenes with Stauffenberg’s family and after the bomb plot story begins, they’re sent off in a car and never really seen again. In the second half, it becomes purely a thriller where things just keep going wrong and the characters have to adapt to every change in the situation. The constant planning and replanning is thrilling, as is the interplay between characters. The tension is carried well by the cast and the editing. It’s really cool watching Stauffenberg take control of the situation. The problem is that it’s not interesting to read about unless you want to do a blow by blow which I don’t want to do. Allow me to say though, that after the bombing actually happens, the movie gets really exciting because you get to see the conspiracy come to life and almost seem to succeed.

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This is a movie that takes place during the Second World War, and almost everyone in the movie is a soldier, but it’s not a war movie. I find it interesting because a lot of movies about the Nazis don’t include the war as a thing that’s happening. In Schindler’s List, Downfall, Conspiracy, this… the war is always feels like something going on somewhere else. It’s particularly strange in Downfall because the war is actually happening to them because the Russians were in the process of invading while that movie was going on. Still, even there the war is at the gate and it’s still not arrived yet. Not that I want this to be a war movie, or that I need there to be a lot of battle scenes that aren’t part of the story, but I find it interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war movie from the German soldiers’ point of view. No, All Quiet on the Western Front doesn’t count, that’s a World War One movie. It’s not really important, I was just noticing it.

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Anyway, let’s wrap this up. I liked this movie, I thought it was a very good thriller with a lot of interesting twists and turns. It might be a little late to mention it, but another thing I do like are the few gunshots in the movie. They sound like little pops, like how gunshots really sound. Too often gunshots in movies, even small pistol shots, are layered to sound like cannons going off. There has been a change over the last few years, with a few movies trying to give them a little more realistic sound effect. I like that. There is a lot to like here, even if some things don’t come off as strongly as they could have, should have, or the team wanted them to have. The family element could have easily been cut out of the film without hurting it, as much of Stauffenberg’s family was cut out, in fact members of his family that were part of the conspiracy were excised from the story. I didn’t feel the family bits, they didn’t quite work for me. That’s one tiny complaint in an otherwise good and admirable film though, and we didn’t spend the entire film knee deep in daddy issues, which is a nice change from a lot of what I’ve watched lately.

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Official Score:
68 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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