Tom Cruise turns in robotic performance in ‘Valkyrie’
December 31, 2008
In July 1944, a successful attempt on Hitler’s life was to be followed by a coup code-named “Operation Valkyrie.” Once in charge the new regime intended to negotiate peace and prevent thousands of needless deaths. Unfortunately, by the time a group of German Generals had organized for the 15th attempt to assassinate Hitler, defeat was already knocking on Germany’s door.
United Artists, a studio purchased last summer by Tom Cruise and his partner Paula Wagner, have financed a film presenting the German resistance in a flattened manner that comes perilously close to mundane. Though “Valkyrie” isn’t a complete loss, the actors can’t cope with its rhythmless pace. Drab dialog delivery prompted me to wonder whether the cast or the Reich’s officers were ingesting sedatives, the exception being those few instances when the Fuhrer himself is present. During his brief scenes, David Bamber’s tone and body language convey the dictator’s fading grasp on reality for the film’s most disturbing and credible performance.
Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (he was also a count), charged with delivering the bomb that would kill Hitler and much of his cabinet. Cruise’s characterization is that of a robotic, peeved aristocrat. The actor mumbles his lines, threatens to walk-out on his cohorts and seems nearly as off-putting as, well, Tom Cruise. The colonel’s support group consists of Major General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), Generals Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) and the waffling Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) who commanded the reserve army essential to the planned overthrow.
During its final act, depicting what went right and what went wrong with the operation, the film lists the presumptions, indecision and overlooked elements dooming this attempt to kill Hitler and seize control of Germany’s government. Though Colonel von Stauffenberg remains aloof and enigmatic, several characters finally display the emotions prevented from intruding on the story up to this point. It’s a nice touch, but, like the failed coup, it’s too little, too late.