Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

A plot enacted by German politicians and military personnel finally came to fruition on the 20th July, 1944 when lead conspirator, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) and his assistant Lt Werner von Haeften (Jamie Parker) placed an explosives-laden briefcase next to one Adolf Hitler (David Bamber), an ex-army corporal with delusions of grandeur.

Tom Cruise seems to be viewed with almost as much distaste as Hitler in some circles. Cruise first appeared on our screens as several brash and overly enthusiastic young upstarts and has succeeded in carrying this ever-grinning personae with him ever since. There is nothing wrong with one-note performances, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood made a career out of it, but the problem with Cruise is that he can become a bit much - probably the best example is the Mission: Impossible franchise, which should be all about the team but instead become valentines sent by and for Tom.

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This hasn't stopped Cruise becoming so successful that he and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, at one point became studio heads at United Artists, or should that be United Artist? On an assortment of US chat shows, Cruise has championed his religious and other slightly off-kilter opinions generally to his detriment. He is clearly a celebrity, like Mel Gibson, who should be seen and not heard.

A couple of times in his career, Cruise has had a go at a character part, such as Born On The Fourth Of July, and acquitted himself with distinction. Valkyrie is another such undertaking.

Surrounding himself with the crème-de-la-crème of British character actors (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Kevin McNally, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Eddie Izzard(?)), a token German, Thomas Kretschmann, and rising star Carice van Houten would seem to be asking for trouble – and it is, but for the fact that the tale is so compelling, within 15 minutes you'll have forgotten all about the Cruise-factor, even if you can't help thinking an unworthy, "He must be standing on a box", from time to time.

Screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, and director Bryan Singer have done a terrific job of resurrecting the Seventies style of war film spiced up with the benefits of modern editing and special effects and, thankfully, avoiding the staccato editing and shaky camera that currently plagues the action genre.

The outcome of the film should be a foregone conclusion, but since we are not familiar with all the players, unless you overdosed on Purnell's History Of WWII, one becomes invested in their ultimate fates.

Nighy is a particular standout as the vacillating General Olbricht, damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Branagh, another actor with a performing ego, shines as a side-lined conspirator. Kretschmann makes good of his role as Major Remer, who finds himself caught up in a coup d'état that relies on the efficiency of the Nazi war machine in executing operation Valkyrie, a military operation ironically designed to prevent just such a coup.

It seems odd to describe a serious historical war film as thoroughly enjoyable, but I was delighted to see the subject played straight and not given the Michael Bay Pearl Harbor makeover and hope that the film is a success and start a trend. Anyone for a British remake of The Battle of the River Plate?

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2009
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Story of a plot to assassinate Hitler.
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Stephen Carty ***

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander

Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McNally, Christian Berkel

Year: 2008

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Germany


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