Cruis proves an unconvincing Claus

2009-02-03 00:00

AS a historical drama and thriller Valkyrie, about the German army plot to kill Hitler, is an in-between film. It does not recreate events with the harrowing attention to detail of Downfall or Sophie Scholl, nor does it romanticise them, rewriting history in Hollywood style.

If you want to know the terror of being a conspirator who is one of the few to have their eyes open during the most brutal tyranny in history, when no-one around you can see the same thing or has the guts to admit they do, then rent Sophie Scholl.

Not that Valkyrie fails — it is at the same time quite flawed and quite watchable. I had hoped this would be a return to less mainstream form for director Bryan Singer, who since The Usual Suspects has gone on to make the rather average Apt Pupil, TV’s House, a pair of X-Men films and Superman Returns.

Some of what Singer has done in Valkyrie is very good. The sets look authentic and clearly careful attention has been paid to footage and newsreels of the time. Historically, too, the film does not seem too far off the actual way things really happened.

But Valkyrie still allows itself to be influenced by Hollywood schmaltz — Hitler musing on how you can’t understand national socialism if you don’t comprehend Wagner, or chief conspirator Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg getting a lump in his throat watching his daughter salute him while his sons pretend to sword-fight.

Then of course there’s that man Tom Cruise. It’s not really his fault Cruise has been poorly cast as Von Stauffenberg, but really actors should know their own limitations. Apart from Cruise’s American accent, which is off-putting from the start, Von Stauffenberg wasn’t a movie star: he was an ordinary army officer who thought he could make a difference. And Cruise’s slightly gung-ho approach to the role stands in contrast to the subtle performances alongside him from a stellar cast, including Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh.

Sophie Scholl and Downfall were made by a new generation of

Germans who seem tired of sweeping the past under the carpet, and want to investigate and bring to the screen the holocaust in all its

horror, down to the tiniest detail.

While quite accurate, Valkyrie is essentially a Hollywood movie aimed at a wide audience, so the true horror is somewhat watered down, but some good performances and solid but unspectacular directing make it watchable.

*** Marc Strydom

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