United Artists
At Quality 16 and Showcase

1.5 out of 5 Stars

Long plagued by studio indecision, budget inflation and intense media
scrutiny, “Valkyrie” finally made it to theaters. Produced
and distributed by United Artists, the recently revived MGM mini-studio now run by Tom Cruise, the movie was initially set for a summer release, then February 2009, then December 26, 2008 before finally finding the silver screen on Christmas Day. Questions about Cruise’s current box office appeal and shake-ups at the studio — Paula Wagner, Cruise’s longtime production partner and co-owner of UA, resigned from her position at the studio in August — had “Valkyrie” on the ropes. In other words, “Valkyrie” was an obvious underdog long before its theatrical release.

The movie stars Cruise as another underdog: Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of a plot within the German military to assassinate Hitler. It is of nominal importance to note that Cruise’s performance was quite sufficient. Cruise is a proven actor, so an adequate performance is pretty much a given; unfortunately, even a satisfactory performance from an accomplished actor can’t save a movie like “Valkyrie.”

In an attack on the German front in Tunisia, Stauffenberg loses an eye and several fingers, further cementing his feelings of resentment toward the Third Reich. He is then recruited by Major General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Brannagh, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”) and General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy, “Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End”), members of an organization bent on restoring Germany’s political prestige with the upending of Hitler’s Germany. Whether the group cares about Hitler’s heinous crimes against European Jews and millions more is unclear; their plot to assassinate the Führer appears solely focused on restoring German pride.

As the film progresses, “Valkyrie” clumsily assumes the role of a by-the-numbers political thriller. As an action movie, “Valkyrie” does what it needs to get by without offering anything particularly inspiring or painfully awful.

And though the film has its clear shortcomings, there are more important questions to be addressed than the obvious “Is this movie worth $9 to see?” For instance, why does it barely allude to the Holocaust? How was “Valkyire,” a movie about Hitler’s detractors, expected to be effective when it focuses solely on German glory as opposed to the Nazis’ attempt at genocide? While it may make for a diverting action movie, is its odd perspective even worth considering?

“Valkyrie,” like Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader,” attempts to reflect the German perspective and reaction to the Third Reich, though neither film is really about the Holocaust. “Valkyrie” may mean well, but it fails to identify itself as anything more than an action movie that happens to be set against the historical backdrop of Nazi Germany. And maybe that’s all it aspired to be. There is something irresponsible, however, about a movie that is so deeply rooted in opposition to Hitler but doesn’t address one the greatest atrocities of his murderous rule. The non-Nazi German perspective is not an irrelevant one, but that doesn’t mean it is one worth aggrandizing to such extremes.

These concerns delve deeper than the filmmakers would likely encourage. At the end of the day, “Valkyrie” is just another star-driven action flick that chooses to ignore its historical surroundings.

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