Friday, February 20, 2009
Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp
Director: Bryan Singer
Runtime: 120 min.
Genre: Thriller, History
Valkyrie is the kind of World War II thriller we no longer seem to make. It is a movie about men taking matters into their own hands, and director Mr. Singer honors those men by making it feel masculine. It is a movie given to swift sure strokes, one that is given to action than to ponder over it. There’s a reason it is a bare-bones genre thriller rather than a more dramatic rendition of history. Because dramas, by their very structure, are feminine in nature, always depicting and often highlighting the weakness (feminine) of the soul. Given the context, i.e. WW II, we’ve been increasingly prone to making somber reflections so much that every film based on it seems feminine by default. In its relentless tension, breakneck pace and eruptive narration Valkyrie is pure macho filmmaking. One should remember that the director-screenwriter combo here, Mr. Singer and Mr. Christopher McQuarrie, created one of the more masculine films in The Usual Suspects.
Time is of essence here. For these men. The Nazi Army is on the defense and if Germany is to be saved from humiliation not a moment is to be wasted. That is why I maintain there’s no other way the film could have gone other than being a thriller. That it is one isn’t incidental. And that it is one is imperative. The objective is to get rid of Hitler, and his cronies. We’re already aware they failed the July 20th briefcase bomb attempt, and if one’s a lover of history the details of the attempt would be part of the awareness too. The film follows these facts closely, as much as I can say, dramatizing only occasionally. But in doing so it never does betray a sense of inevitability, a sense of fatalism to the proceedings. It believes it can alter the course of history, just like its men, it harbors the ambition of a juggernaut and it is purposeful to that effect, and we are intrigued and engrossed.
I’ll not lay out the details of the plot, both of the film and the attempt, and instead I’ll hope you’ll figure them out for yourselves. From the film that is. And marvel at how these men almost willed the tide to change its direction. They do not speak anything other than the plot because there’s no time to digress. No time for small-talk. To ensure that they are men, and not machines, they assure themselves by citing to each other that their action will ensure history will not pass blanket statements and opinions over an entire generation. It isn’t designed to present history, it is designed to try and be the minds of these men. Any attempt to understand these men would be wrong. No time for that. Certainly not the place for that. This is one of the best thrillers of the year, one of its most well made, and that is a fact as plain as the history in question here. And it is one of its most stylish, a taste for which Mr. Singer seems to have in spades.
Consider how forceful the film is shot. The film almost pushes close-ups into our faces, and often pushes us into the middle of the action. There’s a sense of claustrophobia to the proceedings, a sense of headrush. There’s a palpable sense of daze through which the film marches with breakneck pace. There are individual sequences given to silence, maybe to provide calm, but they’re caught up with each other in a mesh of events so thick that everything around feels turbulent.
One of the film’s great secrets is its robust editing, which goes a long way in setting the overall tone. Scenes ram into each other. Every which way. Not a moment feels fluid. It feels like the parts of a machine, which once powered on, move ahead to get the job done. The job almost is when Claus Von Stauffenberg (Mr. Cruise) plants the briefcase bomb in Hitler’s meeting room. It is a sequence worthy of the best of Hitchcock, and it is executed so brilliantly that one viewing isn’t entirely enough. I’ll be watching the film again and that particular scene will be part of what I intend to study. I hope to gain a firmer opinion of matters.
There aren’t many actors who can stare into the face of apparent danger like Mr. Cruise and not blink an eye. Mr. Cruise stares back. He might even appear resolutely dispassionate. We’re never aware of the weakness inside the man. It is as steely an exterior as there has ever been. And in many ways he embodies the film, and they both lend each other their characteristics so that the two blur beyond any recognition. It is one heck of a performance. I’m reminded of Lee Marvin and The Dirty Dozen. I believe Valkyrie is what we need. Now that Mr. Tarantino is indulging himself in Inglorious Basterds I think I have reason to be hopeful that the good old glory days of the World War II thriller are back. A world where the professional male is both professional and male. And God I love that.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 9:20 AM