Valkyrie (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus joins the resistance, but asks why he has to carry the breifcase?
Bryan Singer moves away from his superhero movie making stint and returns with Valkyrie, the World War II drama about the plot to assassinate Hitler and take Germany back.
What’s so special about this true story is that it’s one devised by a group of Germans. Nazi’s who have not believed in Hitler’s ideals and who have secretly devised ways of stopping him from within. New recruited resistance member Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) has the will and means to finally tip the balance and now with the aid of Project Valkyrie, a procedure that comes into place upon Hitler’s death, this small band of men could seize control on Germany and end the war.
Valkyrie is a break from the norm when it comes to World War II movies. It treads the line between a serious war drama and a fast paced war thriller, using it’s assassination plot as its main driver and without it ever slipping in to ‘cool’ or ‘funny’, it can sometimes feels quite reminiscent of an Oceans movie despite the heavy nature of the Nazi Germany setting.
When I saw this in the cinema, I really don’t think I picked up on just how good Tom Cruise’s performance is here. Despite being surrounded by the likes of Terrance Stamp, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, it’s Cruise that brings every bit of the tension, drama and importance of the situation to the audience. He’s determined to put a stop to Hitler, pushing the safe steps approach of the resistance to their limits and risking it all for the sake of his ideals. Cruise’s performance as Stauffenberg is a character that you can’t help but get behind and for a time you think that he could actually pull this assassination off… even though you know he won’t.
For the first hour of the movie it has to be said that nothing really happens beyond being introduced to the players and the situation they’re all in. Most of the dialogue is well structured enough for it never to weigh the pacing down and with scenes that involve trying to recruit people to the cause without giving the game away and getting Hitler himself to sign off project Valkyrie, is all enough to keep the tension thick and compelling.
The second hour is where it all gets a little more exciting and while it never slips into full on action there’s no denying just how much this ticks. The entire assassination attempt is handled with perfection by Singer, you know what the plan is, you know what’s at stake and you know how easily this could go wrong (the only thing I wasn’t clear on was exactly how Stauffenberg got on the guest list to the Wolf’s Lair—but he did, so I let it go). Once that bomb goes off, it all falls onto the shoulders of the rest of the resistance back in Berlin and this is really where Bill Nighy, Christian Berkel as well as many of the supporting cast come into play. Nighy plays off of the pressure of the situation incredibly well and when Tom arrives back, the race against time to take Berlin back from Nazi control is all exciting stuff.
Singer has provided another fine film for his evolving filmography and despite being a fan of his superhero movies it’s quite refreshing having him step away from the genre into something equally as large in scale (okay, maybe not Superman Returns big). Cruise continues to be on top form and really is the heart and soul of this movie and while the supporting cast is nowhere near as used as the publicity for Valkyrie implied, every single one of them provide great performances… all except Eddie Izzard that is. His face off with Tom in the restroom is sort of cringe worthy.
This is quite the unremarkable transfer. Sure, it has its moments, the odd close up looks rich and detailed (especially when Tom is covered in dirt and sand in the opening attack) with some of the large shots of landscapes or planes coming in to land look pretty great but generally this is quite a washed out drab affair with a lot of grey’s and dull greens. This part is probably a stylistic choice but I’m not sure the almost annoyingly fuzzy image was as well.
What at first seems like a thin layer of grain soon becomes far more apparent as quite a textured fuzz on the transfer. At first I thought my back light was set a bit too high for the transfer but after some tinkering, I just couldn’t shift it. This really is a problem is the darker scenes and one scene where the lights go out completely, you really see the fuzzy in all its glory.
What with the strong sense of fuzz, the soft look to the transfer and a real lack of depth to the image this is quite the let down even if it does have moments that shine.
Singer uses the sound in Valkyrie as a tool to drive the audience along with the events. Quiet dialogue scenes are generally just the actors’ voices and it’s all handled well with a nice level of bass. If someone says something important or there’s a bit of drama to their speech, the subtle score sneaks into the rears but it’s when the drama kicks off that the audio really comes into play.
The opening attack in Africa is an attack on the senses. Heavy amounts of bass, screeching planes and rattling machine guns put you slap bang in the middle of the battle. Later on in the movie the slowly growing score can feel spacious and thoroughly impressive. The bombing outside the Stauffenberg house sounds exactly how’d I’m imagine a real air raid would and the bass on the bomb drop shook the leaves on a plant in my living room.
The last hour of the movie is pretty unrelenting in the audio department using all the tricks it’s hinted at in the first hour to full effect. Valkyrie really impresses in the audio department and has obviously been thought about a lot as a key element to the movie.
What starts as a fairly standard set of features soon turns into a surprising amount of goodness, so let’s start with the fairly typical stuff shall we.
‘The Journey to Valkyrie’ (15:56 HD) is a nice look at how the making of this film came together. The two writers discovery of the story and how Singer came to direct. This moves on to how they got hold of Cruise and how the much published photo of Stauffenberg made Tom the obvious choice. We then get a look at some of the historical locations used for the movie, including the actual place many of the characters were shot after they were discovered.
‘The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide’ (09:08 HD) is a closer look at the locations features in the movie and all hosted by Stauffenberg's very own grandson.
‘The African Front Sequence’ (0 7:01 HD) covers the opening scenes of the movie that were show in the Mojave Desert. This covers stunts, explosions and plenty of dirt. Focusing in a little close we then have ‘Taking to Air’ (07:32 HD) which covers the many vintage planes used in the movie and gives us everything from engine to speed capabilities.
Closing the quite typical half of the features were have ‘Recreating Berlin’ (0 6:51 HD) which shows the details of making the modern Berlin look like 1944 Berlin.
Up to this point, everything is a little standard for this sort of war movie. From here on in Valkyrie starts impressing with its features.
‘The Valkyrie Legacy’ (1 hr 54 mins HD) is a great long documentary that spends a little while on the movie at the beginning and end but gives a bloody good overview of German history . Giving hordes of details on Hitler and the Nazi’s and how and why project Valkyrie came to be. This then this continues to impress by going beyond the war and through key events in German history up to modern day. This is a fantastic documentary to refresh or educate the audience and a fantastic addition that raises the question of why other movies don’t offer this sort of thing.
Next up is ‘92nd Street Y:Reel Pieces (38:57 SD). I’m not entirely sure what this is, but essentially it’s Bryan Singer and the Cruisinator himself in front of an audience while being interviewed by a very pleasant lady. This provides a great deal on insight into the pairs knowledge of their subject and comes with loads of great little stories about the film’s production. Again this is a great feature to have.
If that wasn’t enough, there are still two commentaries to go. The first I listened to was the two writers, Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. This generally features the two discussing the stories they unearthed while researching the story, highlighting what were actual conversations and how they weeded out the important parts of the story and structured the screenplay accordingly. It’s a nice commentary for any budding screenwriter with McQuarrie leading the way pretty consistently.
The second commentary featuring McQuarrie again, as well as Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise is equally as good. Firstly, hats off to Cruise for being one of the few big stars that does commentaries and out of those few he’s actually one that gives a whole lot of interesting input. He’s a little more laid back the usual on this track, which is more to do with the movies content (and him being the head of the studio that produced it) but between him, Singer and McQuarrie they provide more stories about the real Stauffenberg and the making of the movie in a thoroughly listenable commentary.
There’s a digital copy listed on the press release as well, but I didn't get it with my review copy.
Valkyrie isn't a movie I'd watch a lot but it is one that I think achieves everything it sets out to. Singer sets up and handles the situation perfectly and Cruise leads the way into one of the biggest failed plots in history with some real class.
Despite a few moments, the video is a real let down, but the audio is impressive. The features cover everything you'd want and more even if they aren't exactly exciting enough to rush straight into. Despite the iffy transfer this is quite a good package overall.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 8th June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Audio Description 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 Russian
Subtitles: English, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian
Extras: Commentaries, Featuettes, The Valkyrie Legacy Documentary, Q&A with Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard
Genre: Drama, Thriller and War
Length: 120 minutes
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