DO THE REICH THING

Tom Cruise isn't WWII film's biggest mistake

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VALKYRIE
Studio: MGM Distribution Company
Rated: R
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice Van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann,
Director: Bryan Singer
WorkNameSort: VALKYRIE
Our Rating: 2.00

'I see in this the hand of providence,â?� a familiar bark swells through a cowed Berlin, 'directing me to complete my work.â?� German dictator Adolf Hitler was speaking in triumph after another failed assassination attempt ' the valkyries, those mythic deciders of battle, had chosen him once again and he would bathe in the blood of traitors. And why wouldn't he feel divinely blessed? By this time, Europe was at his feet; hell, he was even on the birthday-card list of the Catholic Church.

And so he survived and took his revenge, and so our movie ends. It's no spoiler to reveal that the ensemble of this problematic film did not achieve their goal ' that Hitler ate cyanide and a bullet and was burned to a crisp less than a year after the aborted coup is a common, feel-good bedtime story. But director Bryan Singer hopes the conspirators' journey to an inglorious end is worth enjoying, and it might have been in a different film that was willing to stop jogging so hard.

Considering the seemingly cursed production of Valkyrie (protests over Tom Cruise's casting as the German resistance leader, monetary settlements to injured extras), it's a feat that the thriller feels unremarkable. True-life events play out like a CliffsNotes summary page, saving little time for domestic fluffing or sociopolitical commentary. The broad strokes lull the viewer just enough to forget how important Cruise's Col. Claus von Stauffenberg was and how grandly his big-screen adaptation should probably play. Valkyrie's very blandness becomes its greatest asset, since the film doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

The script, by a long-dormant Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), emphasizes visceral code words for a mass American audience and that, more than Cruise's rigid performance, burdens the film with simple-mindedness: 'Hitler is evil and we must kill him,â?� 'We object to all the genocideâ?� and 'We will die if caught,â?� to paraphrase half the movie.

Singer is competent in his no-frills cram session, but the production is a showy marvel. Reports from the Berlin set suggested he landed in minor trouble for his liberal decoration of historical sites with swastikas ' a crime in present-day Germany ' but the design is the only element of an otherwise stiff film worth swooning over, so it was worth the scrapes.

It's also wise of Singer and McQuarrie to shift the focus away from a Tom Cruise Hero Role and let him simply lead a reliable frontline of supporting actors. A pudgy Kenneth Branagh paves the way in a self-contained first act as Major-Gen. Henning von Tresckow, whose own malfunctioned plot to kill the Führer was a prototype for Stauffenberg's. Bill Nighy is almost unrecognizable ' so riddled with doubt is he as Gen. Friedrich Olbricht, the man on whom so much rests, that he practically disappears within his own reservations. Veteran Brit day player David Bamber as Hitler is arch and all too human.

Valkyrie's a fine effort from all involved, but its scope is neutered by an edit job that lops off, I suspect, all but the relevant portions until little is left but a protein shake; the essentials are there, but at the expense of flavor.

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