Based on the true story of a high-level Nazi plot to assassinate Hitler. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is a loyal officer who serves his country all the while hoping that someone will find a way to stop Hitler (David Bamber) before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realising that time is running out, he decides that he must take action himself and joins the German resistance. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler\'s own emergency plan - known as Operation Valkyrie - these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government from the inside.

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Cruise, Singer, lose the credibility battle

If you can accept Tom Cruise in an eye-patch as a heroic German colonel who masterminded a plot to assassinate Hitler, and a bunch of blue-blood British actors as his fellow-plotters, Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie may hold some appeal as a reasonably engaging thriller.

That’s a mighty big 'if," since Cruise sounds just like he has in every other movie, while the Brits are their usual very English selves, thinly camouflaged as Nazis-with-consciences.

Credibility is key here, as the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Singer’s collaborator on The Usual Suspects, and Nathan Alexander is based on a true story.

The second movie produced by the re-born United Artists, part-owned by Cruise, Valkyrie wasn’t the financial and critical disaster that some pundits had predicted, and it wound up grossing a decent $US198 million worldwide.

In the impressive opening sequence set in Tunisia, German ground forces are attacked by Allied aircraft, and Cruise’s Claus von Stauffenberg loses an eye, his right arm and two fingers on his left hand. Thereafter he enlists the aid of dissident fellow officers and political and business figures to hatch a plot to kill Hitler and take control of the reserve Army and Berlin.

Cruise gives it his best shot, but I had to agree with the US critic who found him too modern and too American to be believable. The actor nails the character’s high-minded aspirations and defiance, but he’s not particularly complex or interesting. We learn little about the Colonel’s motivation, beyond his revulsion at the execution of Jews, the murder of civilians and the torturing of prisoners. And we’re offered mere glimpses of his wife and children.

Among the under-utilised Brits are Kenneth Branagh as the major general who tries to blow up Hitler with a bomb hidden in bottles of French liqueur; Terence Stamp as a retired general and long-time Hitler opponent; an uncomfortably stiff Bill Nighy as Stauffenberg’s boss; and Eddie Izzard as the officer in charge of communications at Hitler\'s Wolf\'s Lair compound. Most effective of all is Tom Wilkinson as the ambivalent commander-in-chief of the reserve army in Berlin, who turns a blind eye to the conspirators\' activities while remaining outwardly loyal to the Führer.

As you might expect from the director of Superman Returns and X2: X-Men United (the follow up to his original X-Men), this movie is slick, glossy – and superficial; it could and should have been a lot more gripping. Generous extras include commentary by Cruise, Singer and McQuarrie, and the docu The Legacy of Valkyrie.

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Wed, 05/27/2009 - 11

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