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Valkyrie

Ian and I went and saw Valkyrie last night.  We have a vested interest in seeing WWII movies do well, but this soon went from being a duty to an enjoyable evening.  I really liked this movie.

Bryan Singer really is a top notch director.  I’d love to work with him someday.  He uses visuals to give you so much information so quickly and painlessly.  There is one beautiful scene right near the beginning of the film where a group of German officers are waiting on the tarmac for a plane to land.  Singer takes the shot down to a frame of just this long line of tall black boots, and then a cigarette is dropped and ground out by one of those boots, and then another cigarette, and another, and another.  It a gorgeous shot, and if you know anything about history it’s a nice sell to the audience to tell them that Hitler is about to arrive because he hated smoking.

Then there’s the scene where Stauffenberg is wounded in North Africa, and as he lays on the ground after the strafing run the sand beneath his eye slowly turns red.  No big gore, but incredibly affecting.

The cast if first rate — Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard (yes, really and he’s terrific).

So, let’s get to Tom Cruise.  It was disconcerting to hear his American accent among all the British accents, but that soon faded for me because the suspense was so great, and the script kept me enthralled.  Aside from the accent issue I thought he did a very good job.  He plays Colonel Graf von Stauffenberg as a man driven and obsessed to do what he perceives as his duty.  I’m partial to characters like that.  My protagonist in the Edge series is that kind of man.
Some of the critics have complained that they didn’t know how he was feeling, but I think it would have been a mistake to play the character with the sensibilities of a modern person.  Stauffenberg was a German nobleman, and part of the Junker class of military officers.  They weren’t noted for their analysis of their internal, emotional lives.

I loved the script because it was subtle, and it played subtext rather than being too on the nose.  It also never underestimated the audience’s intelligence.  They didn’t explain every little thing in that tedious way of so many modern films.

The screenwriters — McQuarrie and Alexander — also understood the value of a scene played without dialogue.  Some of the moments between Stauffenberg and his wife were very affecting, and not a word is spoken.

There were a couple of moments that had that obligatory Hollywood shot that I didn’t like.  The one where the wife cups her belly protectively so we know she is pregnant.  This is one case where I would rather have had the dialogue.  And using Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries to help show how Stauffenberg gets the idea went on just a little too long, and threatened to become cliche.  Those are my two biggest complaints.

I thought the music helped build the suspense, and even though I knew this plot failed I found myself tense with anxiety.

So, bottom line.  This is a good movie and well worth seeing.

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