Are you saying this mission is … impossible?

Theatrical Release Date: 12/25/2008
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, Christian Berkel, David Bamber, Thomas Kretschmann, Carice van Houten

Mob mentality tends to dictate that if a significant portion of any particular social group are performing “evil” deeds, that the whole lot of them must have that “evil” inside of them. During the Cold War, “everyone” behind the Iron Curtain was a good-for-nothing Communist. After 9/11, people began to distrust Muslims as a whole, rather than realizing that there was a very, very small percentage of people who intend to send America and her allies to the afterlife. Most germane to this review, in World War II, most of America thought that “all” Germans were evil.

However, as WWII history buffs already know, there were German citizens and soldiers who didn’t believe in the Nazi cause and were so opposed to their ideologies that a number of attempts were made on Adolf Hitler’s life.

That’s the premise behind director Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie” and it’s nice to see a somewhat different tack on the WWII film being presented by mainstream Hollywood. Instead of cheering on our brave Allied soldiers to victory, audiences will find themselves cheering for Germans trying to rid themselves of a tyrannical despot (I won’t spoil the ending).

Going into the film, I had reservations about how the cast (Tom Cruise especially) would deal with German accents. Well, the filmmakers decided to call an end-around and instead used the “Hunt for Red October” method of starting in one language and segueing into another mid-phrase to suit the intended audience’s aural palette.

I’d still rather see German actors playing the parts and read subtitles but there’s a lot of money being spent on this one so I can’t say I’m surprised about this result. My annoyance doesn’t translate to too many lost dollars and really, after a few minutes of internal grumbling, I got over it. (I’m still peeved about “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” though because they don’t even bother to allude to discrepancy between British and German accents.)

My other big initial fear was that Tom Cruise would yet again call upon his iconic character of Cole Trickle from “Days of Thunder”. I give him credit for not going that route … though he replaced it with his iconic character of Ethan Hunt from the “Mission: Impossible” film franchise which is better than the alternative but I enjoyed “Valkyrie” for the most part in spite of Cruise’s involvement rather than because of it. Watching secret agent Ethan Hunt try to mastermind a complex operation just made me wonder if Ving Rhames was going to parachute in and use his technical skills to make a radio out of a lighter and stick of gum.

Featured actor aside, the supporting cast (while including a number of British actors … I talked about accents already right?) is what makes “Valkyrie” worth watching. Whether it’s Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann or Terence Stamp – each of them bring a very tangible presence to the screen and manage to mostly make up for the fact that Maverick is running point on the attempted assassination of one of the most despicable men in history.

Singer and his team did a good job of cutting together the chaotic last quarter of the film which is a whirlwind of activity that some audience members seemed to have trouble with in keeping up. And that’s perhaps my greatest compliment to Singer, that the complexity of the plan brought about by the Germans depicted in the film is fully evident. We aren’t presented too dumbed down of a version that would make it easier for people not wanting to devote their full attention.

Sadly, in watching the plan unfold, I kept thinking to myself that it’s a shame no one just took the initiative to simply pull out their gun and shoot Hitler (and then themselves because the torture-filled alternative is probably worse). Sure, there were high-ranking Nazis ready to assume power that could have been worse but at the time, taking the hypocritical fire starter out of the equations must have seemed like a good enough idea.

The runtime of the film is just under two hours, which is really nice when it comes to WWII films which tend to go longer. However, in setting up the film as it is presented, it felt a bit longer than it should have. I think that’s largely due to the inclusion of an earlier failed attempt on Hitler in the middle of the film that Singer frames like a possible ending. While I thought it seemed too quick to get to that point if it was the actual resolution, having to wait nearly another hour for the real ending was more painful that it should have been.

On the plus side, the production value is fairly high and the scarcity of war-related violence after the opening scene gave more weight to the hectic and tragic events at the end of the film. Why then am I only giving “Valkyrie” a 3 out of 5? Well, it comes down to a feeling of authenticity. I’m spoiled by top-notch productions like “Band of Brothers” that give me the hope that filmmakers can get closer to the details and nuances of the actual events than it feels like I received here.

Between casting a mega-celebrity like Cruise and deciding to forgo casting real Germans in order to put better box-office friendly ones near the marquee, much of my goodwill was lost. Really, when trying to explain the film, my best analogy is to say it’s Mission Impossible: Germany. Cruise’s performance is straight out of that franchise and that feeling was too hard for me to shake.

If you’re interested in this story or enjoy World War II films in general, nothing short of a true allergy to Tom Cruise should keep you away. The lack of big effects makes waiting for the DVD or cable channels a better option but if you’ve been wanting to check this out, I can’t say you’d be wasting your money to catch this in theaters.

I will however call a big load of Shenanigans should Cruise or the film come up for any major awards. 2008 may not have been the greatest year for film but there are more than enough good/great ones out there to keep “Valkryie” out of the winners circle. I guess we’ll just have to see how the marketing and back-room politics play themselves out.