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Valkyrie (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/19/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/4/2009

I am a firm believer in the old adage that you learn something new everyday. If you remain open-minded, you can absorb previously unknown knowledge at any given time. Having said that, I rarely go into movies expecting to learn anything. And if I do, given the fact that I rarely watch documentaries, I probably shouldn't trust the movie. However, if I'm watching a docudrama, that's a different story. While Valkyrie probably isn't meant to be an educational film, it did answer some questions which I've always had about World War II.

Valkyrie opens in the waning years of World War II. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is leading an operation in North Africa. He is already questioning the direction of the War and the actions of Adolf Hitler. His squadron is then attacked and Stauffenberg is badly wounded, losing an eye and a hand. Upon recovering, Stauffenberg is now even more determined to do something to help Germany. He recruits Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), General Olbricht (Bill NIghy), Major-General von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), and Colonel von Quirnheim (Christian Berkel) to assist him. They create a plan to assassinate Hitler and then use "Valkyrie" (which is sort of like the German National Guard) to overcome the SS. After that, the group will take control and negotiate with the Allies. However, given the security around Hitler and the paranoia running rampant in the country, the plan won't be easy to carry out.

I must say that I've never been a fan of World War II movies (or any war movies really, for that matter), but a well-made movie is a well-made movie, and Valkyrie certainly falls into that category. The film marks the re-teaming of Director Bryan Singer and Writer Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote the script with Nathan Alexander), who shot to fame with The Usual Suspects. In that time, Singer has gone on to specialize in super-hero action films with X-Men, X-men 2, and Superman Returns. On the whole, Valkyrie falls somewhere in-between Singer's thriller roots and his more recent action-oriented fare.

Singer manages to keep the pacing tight and does what he can to draw suspense out of the story. Ostensibly, this is a political thriller, and there is a lot of dialogue concerning the many points of the plan (more on that in a moment), but Singer muscles through this and rarely lets the movie get too top-heavy or dull. The opening scene, featuring the air-raid attack in the desert, is very well-done and reminding me of something from an Indiana Jones film. As one can tell from the synopsis, a stellar cast was brought together for Valkyrie. Despite the complexity of the story, these well-known and talented actors bring enough presence to the movie to hold our attention. The movie is depicted a desperate situation and they are able to make the tension palpable. Even Tom Cruise, whom I've never liked, is tolerable here.

But, Valkyrie does have its issues. Kudos to everyone involved for making the movie historically accurate (as far as I can tell) and including the players and events from the real story. However, things get convoluted and messy at times. Despite the length and detail of the film, the "Valkyrie" plan is spelled out very quickly and I can easily see how some viewers won't follow it at all. Also, there are simply too many German officers involved, all of whom are dressed the same. In the third act, everyone is looking for Colonel Fromm and I kept asking myself, "Which one is Fromm, again?"

As implied above, I did learn something from the film. I've always wondered why so many people followed Hitler, having no idea that there had been resistance and mutiny within the ranks. This idea was very interesting. However, I do know enough about history to be aware of the fan that the plan didn't succeed. Due to this fact, some of the suspense was sucked out of the film. Despite this, Valkyrie provides an interesting story, top-notch acting, and the hand of a skilled director.

Valkyrie want to blow up the fuhrer on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as the grey uniforms are often contrasted with brighter shades. The image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows an impressive amount of depth and detail. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The opening scene will tell you all that you need to know about the audio here. The airplane attack provides stellar surround, stereo and subwoofer effects. The effects are highly detailed and the speaker placement is impeccable.

The Valkyrie Blu-ray Disc contains many extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise, and Writer Christopher McQuarrie. There is a second COMMENTARY with McQuarrie and fellow writer Nathan Alexander. "The Journey to Valkyrie" (16 minutes) offers a detailed look at how the story made its way to a movie. Focusing on writers McQuarrie and Alexander, we learn of the true story and how the filmmakers and cast became involved. "The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide" (9 minutes) is hosted by Philipp Von Schulthess, grandson of Colonel Stauffenberg, and takes us on a tour of the actual locations from the story, while giving details of the true story. "The African Front Sequence" (7 minutes) takes us on location to show how the opening sequence was shot. "Taking to the Air" (8 minutes) looks at the use of real vintage aircraft in the film. The filmmakers discuss the challenge and reward of shooting a period piece in Berlin in "Recreating Berlin" (7 minutes). "92nd Street Y: Reel Pieces with Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer" (39 minutes) is a Q&A with the two from a film festival. "The Valkyrie Legacy" (114 minutes) is a documentary which mixes information about the movie with a look at the real-life story.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long