After the release of Downfall, a German-language film about the last days of Adolf Hitler, it seemed no longer acceptable (or at least no longer credible) for Hollywood productions about Hitler and Nazi Germany to be produced in English. Action films like the Indiana Jones series will always be able to get away with it, as perhaps will slightly pretentious dramas like The Reader. But serious and self-conscious efforts, like Hitler: The Last Ten Days and The Bunker, can no longer be taken as anything but tongue-in-cheek. Even with the great talents of Alec Guinness and Anthony Hopkins respectively playing Hitler, today they look stilted and laughable.
In the case of Valkyrie, however, it pretty much gets away with it. Unlike The Bunker or other such films, there seems to be a ?knowingness? to it, a postmodern recognition that, in light of Downfall, no English-language film about the Nazis can ever claim to be definitive, and hence it is foolish to try. The only problem, resulting from this, is that it never quite decides how serious it wants to be. It flits between being a pure popcorn action thriller and a more cerebral moral drama, doing both aspects fairly well, but never quiet settling on one or the other.
The casting reflects this dilemma. On the one hand, we have a crowd of seasoned, serious British actors like Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp and Bill Nighy, all of whom can be called upon to deliver solid dramatic performances ranging from Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy to The Hitch-Hikers? Guide to the Galaxy. And yet on the other hand, we have the one-time definitive American action hero Tom Cruise in the lead role, and Eddie Izzard playing a comic foil which could easily work as a dumb sidekick, just as John Hannah did with Brendan Fraser in The Mummy.
The script is largely believable, and is generally well-acted, especially by Cruise, who seems to have lost a lot of weight for the part, particularly in his face. Bryan Singer?s direction is largely unremarkable for the first half, though he does manage to create genuine tension in the bunker scenes where the bomb finally goes off. The actual scenes of Operation Valkyrie, however, are both aestethically pleasing and unremarkable.
In short, Valkyrie is by no means a terrible film, but it walks the tightrope between serious and frivolous in a sometimes shaky way. Like a Coen Brothers film, you?re never really certain whether things are going to be brooding and dark, or simply forgettable and flippant. In years to come it will hold up a lot better than other Hollywood Nazi flicks, and it is a return to form for Tom Cruise, but otherwise you shouldn?t queue up to see it.