Recently it’s been publicized that Bond 23 has been put on hold indefinitely while MGM figures out its finances. Tom Cruise’s reign of MGM has resulted in a very bankrupt studio. Lions for Lambs was one of the nails in the coffin. Here is another.
For a contemporary movie about trying to kill Hitler, it’s not as good as Inglorious Basterds, but of the two I think this was overlooked because a) Tom Cruise plays a German guy, and nobody buys it, b) for a movie about killing Hitler people know how it ends, so what’s the point of watching it.
I was pleasantly surprised with Cruise. It starts with him writing a letter and his voice-over is in German. It transitions to his English voice so you don’t have to keep watching a movie with German subtitles. And also because Cruise probably can’t sustain speaking in that language. I think it would have been a fun experiment and the box office results would have probably been the same.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with Operation Valkyrie. I’m not a world war 2 nut, but it was striking to see the physical resemblance to the man in real life that Cruise was playing.
What I liked about their plan (assuming the movie followed it accurately) was that the foundation for it was already layed down by Hitler. It’s like if he put down a loaded weapon and someone decided to pick it up and shoot him with it. It had an ingenuity to it, but it probably took this long to get to the big screen because nobody could figure out how to make it cinematic enough.
Enter Bryan Singer. I think the order he had was a tall one, but I think he pulled it off really nicely. The most important thing he contributed to this was directing it in such a way that still made it suspenseful. It’s like Titanic – you know how it ends. But how you get there is just as important. There is a moment in the film where Cruise’s character enters Hitler’s secret bunker with a timed explosive he keeps hidden in a brown suitcase. He leaves it under the table while they’re looking at a map and then as casually as he can, walks away from it hoping the explosion doesn’t hurt him. He makes a long escape, and you’re never sure where the path ends for him. It is among two of the most suspensful sequences of the film. It’s handled brilliantly. It’s paced expertly. It tightens the line between what you know will happen versus what you want to happen. So even if Hitler makes it, at least you hope he gets seriously messed up in there.
It’s like watching your favorite basketball team losing a playoff game with only 2 minutes left down by a deficit of 20 points you know they can’t close in time. You just hope they put in a good fight before they go down. (It’s playoffs season…yes, I’m suffering)
I think that’s where the strength of this movie comes from. It plays with our desires in a way that even Inglorious Basterds does not. Because in that movie, Hitler does die. And yet the suspense in getting there seems strangely vacuous. It is a good definition of the exploitation movie. Nothing is really on the line, it’s just a movie having fun with a serious subject.
In Valkyrie, things aren’t exactly fun. In fact, when Cruise returns to Germany and begins sending out word that Hitler has died, it’s only a matter of time before the walls close in on him and he suffers his terrible fate. There’s a lot of urgency in that sequence, and it ‘s the second really suspenseful piece of this movie.
Bryan Singer knows how to ratchet up suspense. He’s damn good at it. X Men and Superman Returns might not be indicators, but Apt Pupil and The Usual Suspects are pretty solid examples. This movie is a reunion of sorts. He reunites with the subject matter of Apt Pupil and the writer of The Usual Suspects. It’s lethal, gutsy and heady. Perfect fodder for world war two enthusiasts and pretty entertaining for the rest of us.