Some day, perhaps years or decades from now, when Tom Cruise’s Oprah antics and Scientology ramblings have faded into distant memory, people will reflect upon his acting legacy and evaluate him as a pretty decent actor who chose some interesting roles ranging from a suburban rich kid in Risky Business to a US Union officer in Japan (The Last Samurai), a vampire, and against-type as an anti-hero hitman in Collateral.
With Valkyrie you can add eye-patch-wearing Nazi to the list as Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in the failed July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns), Valkyrie sports an impressive ensemble cast as players in the failed coup that, had it succeeded, likely would have ended the war and prevented Germany from being partitioned by the allies.
Sticking closely to historical accounts, Singer and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander do a good job a delivering what is essentially a big budget rendering of a docu-drama that you’d expect to find on A&E or the History channel. While the details are up to snuff, and the acting uniformly excellent, what’s missing is any sort of insight into the motivation of the coup plotters beyond the obvious desire to unseat a megalomaniac who was driving their country to destruction.
Whereas history tells us that von Stauffenberg and other senior officers, all largely from aristocratic backgrounds, were motivated by various ideals and morals ranging from the religious to philosophical, economic and political, virtually none of this is conveyed in the in the film. Lip service is paid to their collective desire to free their fellow Germans from the group-think that has their country in its grip, but human motivation is, and was, more nuanced than that.
Nonetheless, the unfolding of events is laden with more than enough drama to carry the film, and the portrayal of opportunistic fence sitters such as Tom Wilkinson’s General Friedrich Fromm, whose sole interest was being on whichever side won the day, adds further tension to the story. Cruise is surprisingly good as the maimed and decorated Colonel whose inclusion among Hitler’s inner circle allowed him to get close enough to plant the bomb, as well as co-ordinate the details of Operation Valkyrie — a plan approved by the Fuhrer himself to mobilize the Reich’s military reserve units to maintain order in the event of his death.
Valkyrie offers much more than a mere showcase for the world’s most famous Scientologist. While more could have been delivered, it is true to the source and will leave you wondering how different today’s world might be had these men succeeded in their actions.