I was fairly excited about Valkyrie when I first heard about it a couple of years ago — perhaps, in retrospect, this was only because I heard about it roughly the same time that I heard about Inglourious Basterds, a less probable but wholly more enjoyable film. The problem, I’m happy to say, is not Tom Cruise. He may have been leaping all over Oprah’s chairs while making this film, but none of that comes out in the film. The real problem is the fact that the suspense is not built up appropriately enough. Let’s face it: this film is about the attempt to assassinate Hitler from within the German High Command, which we know never eventuated. Thus, there should be a palpable amount of tension and suspense to make us forget history. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of any suspense — just lots of talking about what should happen. I do recall a relatively suspenseful scene involving a misplaced briefcase, but really, there is not enough intrigue here to hold our attention. So little, in fact, that I honestly fell asleep halfway through the film and had to finish it — grudgingly — after I woke up. And guess what? It ends exactly as we expect.
Though he doesn’t ruin the film, Cruise’s acting isn’t a highlight, either. The best actors are either subdued (Bill Nighy in particular) or underused (especially Kenneth Branagh and Tom Wilkinson). Branagh looks nothing like the real-life Henning von Tresckow, but his convictions and quiet determination are so obvious on-screen that we don’t even care. (The opposite is true of Cruise, by the way: he looks scarily close to the real-life Claus von Stauffenberg, but he does nothing in his scenes but glare and growl at the other actors.) The most uncanny performance, however, is David Bamber as Hitler. I know this actor as Cicero from HBO’s Rome, and I can say that he looks nothing like Hitler in real life. In this film, though, the makeup is so effective, and Bamber’s postures so authentic, that watching him on the screen was for me the most stirring moment in the film. But we only see him a few times, and anyway, I don’t how I’d feel about appreciating Hitler in a film. Overall, the acting has its admirable moments, but it is ultimately too unbalanced to save the film.
In the end, Valkyrie is a thrill-less thriller, which is disappointing considering the director is Bryan Singer, who made the very thrilling Usual Suspects. Had Singer gotten inside the minds of the conspirators and developed the psychological implications of their actions, Valkyrie could have been an exciting film. Instead, we have a boring, rambling movie that chugs dutifully along to its conclusion. Now that I think about it, I kind of wish that Cruise had done some chair-leaping in this movie, because then, at least, something remotely thrilling would have happened.