Pub date December 24, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW In a world gone mad … only one man can save Nazi Germany from itself: Captain Eyepatch! Jaw perpetually clenched and speech sotto voce to underline he’s being, y’know, intense, Tom Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who returned home after being wounded by Allied fire in Tunisia to a Germany he felt had already lost the war. He and high-ranking others disillusioned by Nazism and Hitler’s losing strategies hatched a plan to assassinate Der Führer in 1944, hoping to end World War II early and spare the country complete devastation. Director Bryan Singer drums up some tension around the actual attempt (via explosive). But that’s 15 minutes at most in the middle of a movie you realize just moments in was probably doomed to be a flat, pompous bore even before shooting started. The main reason is that it is yoked to Cruise’s star baggage, which drains von Stauffenberg of any complexity — he’s presented as righteously anti-Nazi from the start, despite having served the regime for years. Instead, we get a heroic stick figure that elicits the actor’s stiffest "What the hell am I doing here?" performance since 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. He’s a big blank spot at the center of a film that has enough problems already, his regular all-American voice clashing against the otherwise mostly-Brit support cast (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and Eddie Izzard) — for a while it seems like Hitler (David Bamber) is the only German in Germany with a German accent. But there’s a larger airlessness to this drama, which never quite escapes the D.O.A. tenor of old "Europudding" productions that mashed together multinational stars in expensive but plodding, unconvincing historical recaps. It manages to turn fascinating fact into a dullish, formulaic-feeling star vehicle. (Dennis Harvey)

VALKYRIE opens Thurs/25 in Bay Area theaters.