Friday, January 2, 2009
Valkyrie appears to be getting panned in some circles, while garnering high ratings in others. I went to see this film the day after it was released...so I was unaware of the widespread dissatisfaction with this film. I'm glad I saw it before reading the less favorable opinions...it may have been enough to persuade me to watch one of the other big releases over Christmas and wait for this one on DVD. Valkyrie is a big Hollywood production that was exceptional on the big screen...I'm glad that this is the format I was able to watch it in.
Valkyrie may not be the best movie of the year...it might not even break my Top Ten. (If you haven't seen Gran Torino yet, I would suggest that one before I would Valkyrie.) I did not understand some of the negative reviews of Valkyrie. Although I am not a big fan of Tom Cruise, I did not feel he took anything away from this film. Going into the movie, my biggest concern was how the writers (Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander) would handle the important historical context of this film. Valkyrieis a story that has already been written...it is a footnote in German History, but an important one. Presenting this film with historical accuracy was as important as creating intensity and drama. McQuarrie and Alexander succeeded overwhelmingly on both counts.
Valkyrie was an operation undertaken primarily by Colonels in Hitler's Officer Corps. There were some Generals and Civilians involved in the plan, but it was primarily the brain child of a Colonel named Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). The plan was based on Orders issued by Hitler under the name Operation Valkyrie, which intended to use Reserve Soldiers to restore order in the event of an uprising. The concept was fairly straight forward. Kill Hitler, accuse the SS of attempting to seize power, initiate Operation Valkyrie and have the Nazi's arrested in a counter-coup. The operation was brilliant and may have succeeded if Hitler had actually been killed by the bomb intended to set this chain of events in motion. Instead, a lack of initiative on several fronts combined with the failure of the plot to kill Hitler culminated in a miserable failure. Valkyrie was dismissed by the Allies as an internal dispute among the Nazis rather than being viewed as a legitimate coup. The participants were viewed for many years as traitors by the German people.
I watched the History Channel to get more details on Operation Valkyrie, checking the historical account against the cinematic account. I was surprised on two fronts. First of all, details that I was unaware of going into this film raised big question marks in my mind...I doubted the accuracy of the historical facts...which turned out to be surprisingly close to reality. An added bonus was the eerie physical resemblance of many of the characters with the actual conspirators. Although the film condensed many of the details down to a viewable format, very little historical accuracy was sacrificed in the process.
In evaluating the writing, the historical framework was the most important to me and I considered it successful. However, the condensation of events left very little room for a back story, whittling Stauffenberg's service in Africa down to a quick conversation followed by an Allied attack and Stauffenberg's injuries from that attack. It would have been nice to get into Stauffenberg's head a little bit regarding his injuries and any role that played in his anger over the conduct of the war. There were other character development issues in this film that can mostly be chalked up to time. Stauffenberg is painted as a hard nosed Colonel who provided the leadership that was lacking from many of the other conspirators (including those who outranked him). I'm not sure how much information was available regarding these historical figures and the character development issue could have been tied to a desire not to create character traits that were not fully known...which might paint an inaccurate picture of the characters. The dialogue in this film was believable, some of it coming directly from historical accounts of the event. The writers also did an excellent job of creating intensity and suspense within the framework of a story that we now the ending to. As a whole, the writing succeeded but would have been exceptional with more character development.
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