There is an issue of casting in Valkyrie, that of convincing a wide audience Tom Cruise is a German Nazi officer. No one can possibly believe the actor would fit into the role, and to be perfectly honest, he doesn’t.
That is part of the reason the first half of the film fails. The assassination plot of Hitler being taken down from inside his own ranks is slowly brewing, and tension is limited. It gives time for the audience to focus on Cruise instead of the story, and how he stands apart from the other actors.
Director Bryan Singer does address this to some effect in the opening moment. Cruise sits in a tent in Tunisia, reading aloud a note he is writing in German. Subtitles tell the story, while a slow transition to English occurs mid-sentence. American audiences are notorious for not attending films with subtitles, so as a work-around, you have to accept it.
Cruise himself does turn in a fine performance as Col. Claus Van Stauffenberg, the leader of a German resistance who attempted to take Hitler’s life. The first half, filled mostly with dry dialogue and a spattering of character development, is a poor indicator of Valkyrie’s quality. The scale of the German plot has not been full realized.
When the time does come, especially the failed first attempt, Singer directs with intensity. A first-person point of view pulls the viewer in as the potential killers drive towards Hitler’s fortified base. Nervous glances and interruptions are wonderfully timed as their plot spins out of control before begin cancelled all together. This is where the issue of Cruise playing a German is wiped away.
The second attempt is also handled deftly, swiftly moving forward with dramatic intensity. When the bomb does go off, the film becomes a frantic scramble for details, including whether or not Hitler was killed. Desperate phone calls and frenzied arrests on the SS are ordered, and again, Singer handles the material with care.
The test of a true story being adapted to film is whether or not the audience member’s who are aware of the facts can still feel the tension. Knowing the bomb failed to kill Hitler going in, Valkyrie still succeeds in generating thrills, particularly when the resistance are required to think quickly to save themselves. The only issue is getting past Tom Cruise to make it that far.
Like many modern films, Valkyrie uses a hot, overblown contrast throughout. Still, despite the chosen look, this is an exceptional AVC transfer. Detail is outstanding, down to facial pores and uniform stitches. This holds true for nearly every scene in the film.
Black levels are excellent, creating strong depth in the image. Light, natural film grain is left intact. Sharpness is superb. Color is intentionally muted, with the exception of the bright reds of the Nazi flags. Flesh tones are accurate despite the flat tones. A brief moment of noise, around 36:30 marker on some papers, is far too brief to detract from the overall presentation.
While this DTS-HD offering only has a few moments to show it off, a stunning line of bass kicks in when called upon. The opening Africa assault is incredible, with a string of powerful explosions. Gunfire is crisp on the high end. Planes track around the soundfield as they move about. Some minor ambiance at a party sequence is also notable.
Dialogue is notably quieter than the action, although since numerous conversations occur in whisper, it is hard to judge.
Two commentaries lead the way, the first with Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise, and writer Christopher McQuarrie. The second brings back McQuarrie with co-writer Nathan Alexander. A series of five featurettes are standard fare (around 45 minutes total), with the standout being Road to Resistance, in which Stauffenberg’s grandson gives viewers a tour of various locations critical to his late grandfathers plot.
92nd Street Y is an interview session, apparently at a film festival, that runs nearly 40 minutes. The Valkyrie Legacy is a superb two hour documentary on the actual events, although tying it into the film is on the cheap side.