Friday, January 2, 2009

Man on Film: Valkyrie

While I could expound upon this film's inadequacies for hours, its lack of worth does not warrant such effort on my part.

First off, I was not excited about seeing this film. I did not want to see it. It was not my choice. I went because others wanted to see it to use a gift card. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind.

I do not think that is the case.

Past the art direction and production design, there was simply little to like about this film.

The average moviegoer probably knows how this film is going to end. Hitler commits suicide in his bunker in Berlin as Allied Forces close in. There is not a successful assassination by German officers. So if one is equipped with even the most basic knowledge of World War II, the film better be insanely entertaining/captivating/interesting for Valkyrie to actually work.

Guess what?

None of those things are the case. The attention to detail in establishing the period is there. What they forgot was a script that told a compelling tale with fleshed out and complex characters and a lead who was capable of acting. The only times Tom Cruise has been even remotely interesting was when he was essentially lampooning his own celebrity, like in Magnolia or this year's Tropic Thunder. In Valkyrie, we are treated to Tom Cruise in WWII in a German uniform. Barring voice-over German over the first 30 seconds of the film, this is Tom Cruise with his American accent acting alongside an almost entirely British cast. It could be worse, I suppose--we could have been subjected to Harrison Ford's K-19: The Widowmaker* Russian accent--but the under-estimation of the intelligence of the audience (which is at least inherent from the studio/production side of the equation) in films like this always strikes me as extremely lazy. Sure, Americans managed to elect George W. Bush twice, but are that many of them actually going to go out and see a movie portraying sympathetic Nazis anyway? Know your demographic, dicks. But back to the point, Cruise is leaden. His attempts at imbuing his character with intensity simply come across as lame. His delivery of his admittedly weak dialogue is wooden at best, inflected with little affective emotion. The actions of his character could even potentially be moving in the hands of a skilled actor, but Tom Cruise is not that.

Past Cruise's shortcomings, the film is still not good. The other actors are given little to work with. Kenneth Branagh, who I usually like, is underutilized to criminal lengths. Bill Nighy plays the heel to adequate effect but is still working from an underwritten standpoint. Tom Wilkinson is given little to work with and, honestly, at times it seems as though even he was mailing it in.

The only interesting aspect of the film past aesthetics is that of the relationship between General Fromm and his Aryan underling, and that is only because of the seemingly implied homosexual longing that his assistant has for him when Fromm is under arrest. The looks of longing are at least comical.

Clearly, I was not impressed with this film.

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