Valkyrie (2008) Review – War Without Conflict

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Valkyrie
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Valkyrie as far as I’m aware is a war film. Yeah, I know we just reviewed Full Metal Jacket, but I randomised all the films I hadn’t watched and this was second. I switched this with Drop Dead Fred so we didn’t have two war films in a row. Regardless of that, Valkyrie needs to be reviewed and scrutinised in every way possible.

Like my previous two reviews, there are four main ideals to rate a film on. Those being:

Plot.
Acting.
Writing.
Music.

Those are the four things that absolutely, without a doubt, make a film. That is what every film I review will be graded on, regardless of critical reception, year of release or runtime.

Plot

Hitler’s rivals were growing, but no movement was more dangerous than that of Claus von Stauffenberg.

For history nerds like myself, you’ll know that Valkyrie is based on the July 20th bomb plot that was carried out as an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. So the main aspect of this film to be aware of would be the historical accuracy. As a history student myself, I was quite surprised to see “The Berghof”. It was Hitler’s private residence. On top of that, the portrayal of Hitler was one that fit in with his real life persona. A scene where a document is given for him to sign is very in character, he flicks through it briefly and signs it. It was what Hitler would have done in the non-fictional world.

More on the historical accuracy, mainly due to the four children Cruises’ character has. In Nazi society, it was encouraged to have four children. Each child gained the family 250 Marks in a way of increasing the birth rate. Sorry, the history nerd side of me is coming out during this review.

The film began with a much more action packed approach than I would have expected. The Germans are in what I can only assume is Tunisia as they begin to retreat from advancing forces. Disaster strikes and the British bomb and destroy the entire camp. This is the most action in the film and I really like that. They managed to make a World War II film without any action. As it turns out, the majority of the film is more or less the politics. It follows the subsequent consequences of these individuals actions and I really enjoyed this approach.

An easy to follow climax is good for me

When the movie gets to the meat of the climax, it’s very easy to follow. What should be an immensely complicated plan is made simplistic due to the use of not only narration but clear visuals also. Thanks to this, it makes it very easy to follow as a viewer that doesn’t have much knowledge of the situation. I may be a history buff, but the actual plan itself for the July 20th plot will have been an insanely difficult item to comprehend.

Brilliantly enough, the first attempt at assassinating Hitler fails. Not because the bomb fails to explode, but because they are told to withdraw. I don’t want to spoil the exact reason for it, but it’s an amazingly tense part of the film. As a whole, the film gets really tense and then all of a sudden it’s back to normal and I loved this. It may sound like terrible pacing, but at the same time it manages to create perfectly tense moments that make you think. “well this is definitely the end of this film.”

What I thought was truly amazing was the fact that this is a war film that doesn’t even feature any war. The opening scene and then the final few minutes of the film, that’s all. It focuses on the politics and behind the scenes more than it does on the actual action, and it manages to create a level of tenseness by doing this and that’s amazingly difficult to pull off.

Acting

Cruise was a controversial, but excellent choice.

What I thought was interesting was the beginning of the movie has German speakers with subtitles. This subtly transitions into no subtitles and British speaking. By subtly I mean as subtle as trying to stealth park a submarine on a beach. Still, it was attempted, and we just have to get by with that. It’s only for the first few seconds of the film. Regardless, I don’t see why it was done if it wasn’t done to enough effect.

Tom Cruise was cast as the lead of Claus von Stauffenberg to what I can only describe as some controversy. Beginning the announcement, a number of German politicians and von Stauffenberg’s family protested the casting. Mainly due to Cruise’s links with Scientology. No matter though. They still managed to make the film and Cruise does give a really good performance. In the opening minutes I genuinely thought his character was killed. I was wrong obviously. For me, I thought watching Tom Cruise act for almost two hours while only being allowed to use three fingers is a good enough movie in itself. For me to justify Cruise’s character, there’s a scene in the film that I can’t mention because it’ll spoil the entire film.

There is no substitute for Bruno Ganz

My first impressions with David Bambler as the Fuhrer weren’t too good. I felt as if he didn’t look too much like Hitler. Especially compared with the portrayal of Hitler in Downfall. In Downfall he is played by Bruno Ganz. My opinion of Hitler in this film and his portrayal began to change over time. This was mainly because of the later scenes and historical accuracy. For a film about assassinating Hitler, he spends a lacking time on camera and I really like how they did this. The film instead focuses on those that were out to stop him. Regardless of that, Bambler’s portrayal grew on me over time. It just needed room to develop, which it received numerous times.

The casting was phenomenal

Bill Nighy was definitely my favourite character of all, but that’s probably because I’m a fan of the guy. He plays a very nervous character. He is seemingly on the fence about complaining about Hitler and actually acting upon his words. Over the course of the film we see his character have a tremendous turn in his day to day operations and above all it creates an almost relatable, emotionally attaching character. It leaves the end of the film even more saddening. Here’s a nervous man who has worked his entire life for what he believes in. Only to have his work end in front of a firing squad.

Eddie Izzard, a great actor, a flawed character

I’m giving bonus points for casting comedian Eddie Izzard. I wasn’t expecting Izzard to be such a good actor. Although a minor part of the film when compared to the others, his role leaves a lasting impact. Our introduction to the character is a strong one and it really allows Izzard to show off how much talent he actually has. Although I want to praise Izzard and his character completely, there is one major flaw.

His character never actually agrees to the bomb plot. It’s just sort of assumed and I have no idea if that is historically accurate or not. Whatever the case, there was no recognition that he was apart of the plan. Maybe it was a deleted scene or something. Whatever the case, the final cut of the film didn’t feature it if it was deleted. It probably would have added a lot more substance to the film overall.

Writing

Christian Berkel (right) and Bill Nighty (left) pictured in one of the most iconic scenes of the film.

Of course, because the film is primarily consisting of American and British actors, it’s really hard to shake that feeling. Whereas Downfall manages to create a genuine feel to it because it’s German, Valkyrie fails to create an atmosphere to the same extent. What I mean by this is that throughout the film I just couldn’t shake the American feeling. The flashy visuals in the opening scenes didn’t help. The actors and so on of course will make it difficult to create any other atmosphere. It’s such a small thing but at the same time is one of the most important parts of any film, not just this one.

I did actually appreciate the amount of twists and turns in the film. Not entire plot twists that’ll have you wondering where the plot is going, but the smallest of twists made the film fantastic. There was one scene where I believed there to be a double twist incoming in a matter of seconds. A group of German troops storm into the office, asking for Stauffenberg, as it turns out, they’re there to pledge their support to him and the resistance.

I’m appreciative that the writing managed to grip onto such tense moments and actually make them feel believably lasting. One scene I really thought was tense as all hell was the scene where they planted the bomb in the bag. To do this, they had to assemble it, and what occurred was a lengthy, tense scene which led to the bomb plot almost being uncovered. From Cruise almost dropping the bomb onto the floor to the almost intrusion of a German officer, everything was done extremely well.

Historical accuracy is very important

What I appreciate is historical accuracy. I’ve made a note of it throughout this review thus far, but haven’t really gone into the full detail of it all. To make an accurate war film it needs to stick to the facts, if it doesn’t, it then becomes an alternate history film. As far as I’m aware, the film is accurate to the facts of the time. There isn’t anything outstandingly fictional, with all the characters themselves being portrayed as close enough to the actual person as possible. At this point, it just felt like I was watching a dramatisation of the facts, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On top of accuracy, the film actually managed to convince me the bomb plot had been a success. There was a good ten to fifteen minutes where you could really believe the plan had been a success. The districts were all under control of the reserve army, and then yet another twist happened and it was completely shattered. For those ten to fifteen minutes though, it was truly phenomenal. The film really makes you think Hitler is dead, even though the outcome of the bomb plot is very well known. That’s the scene that would make or break the film if you think about it. Luckily, this scene was carried out exceptionally well. The characters react perfectly well and it really sells the scene that they truly believe Hitler is dead.

Music

This may just be the DVD release I have, but the sound is off. It’s very quiet at times and I don’t know if that’s because they’re whispering or of my TV. I ended up sticking some headphones into my Xbox controller and listening to it and had it on the highest volume possible and it was still quiet. Even the few action scenes featured in the film were quiet at the highest volume. Like I said though, this may just be my copy.

There is a scene that sticks in my mind still, which is the Wagner record player scene. Stauffenberg’s children play Rise of the Valkyries, an air raid begins, nobody turns off the record player. You can probably see where I’m going with this. Although only a short scene, it had a lasting impact on me that lasted until the end of the film.

Conclusion

Valkyrie, plain and simple, was a good film. With the lack of action it felt like a refreshing film that was trying something new and it felt like it worked well. A strong cast really pushed the film from bad to good and it was thanks to their hard work that this film managed to leave a lasting impact.

Although Full Metal Jacket was a much more action packed film, Valkyrie manages to blend a small amount of action with a large amount of fact and politics which, to me, is fantastic. If you’re a fan of history in any way you’ll enjoy this film. But, to conform to the standards of my other reviews, I need to give a yes or no answer. Not a score, those are too wishy washy, just a simple yes or no answer.

Is it worth watching Valkyrie?

Yes.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Valkyrie
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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