Most of you have probably classified Valkyrie in your minds as a historical drama, an examination of one of the few rays of light that railed against the overwhelming evil that was Adolf Hitler and his gang of Nazi thugs. But you would be wrong. In actual fact, Valkyrie is the most elaborate and expensive anti-smoking public-service announcement ever to be made – and it’s all thanks to the health consciousness of Der Fuhrer.
Few people realize that not only was Hitler a murderous psychopath bent on genocide and world domination, but he was also radically intolerant of tobacco. He refused to be around smokers and forbid his officers to smoke in his presence or in buildings where he worked and lived. While this might seem to be an obscure fact to immortalize forever on film, from the very moment Hitler’s private plane comes into view of the runway the camera zooms in on the cigarettes falling from the hands of each of the Nazi bigwigs falling to the ground to be stamped out on the concrete.
This motif is repeated throughout the film: director Bryan Singer strategically guides his camera to zoom in on the smokes that are found in almost every scene, allowing the audience’s gaze to linger on the cancer-causing phallic symbols much like a convicted pedophile would slow his car down while passing an elementary school playground.
Cigarettes aren’t the only insignificant detail elevated to a bizarre level of importance in this sagging war film. Upon being introduced to Hitler’s mountain bunker, the ‘Wolf’s Lair’, we are treated to a montage of mosquitoes, mosquito netting and the need to protect against these blood-sucking pests. Who knew that the Nazis were actually fighting a war on three fronts - East, West and Insect?
It’s not unusual for a filmmaker to dot their supposed masterpiece with a number of repeating themes or details which are meant to obscure the fact that the emperor has no clothes. The illusion of craft is far easier to maintain than an interesting plot, and in this respect Valkyrie suffers from the fact that everyone knows that there was no actual successful conspiracy against Hitler before he ended his life by his own hand at the end of the war.
While in some films that would not be a major stumbling block – witness Titanic, where there was no expectation of the ship to bounce off of the iceberg and into safety – in Valkyrie the entire scheme is executed with the fervent, wild-eyed energy usually associated with a high school talent show bent on saving the beloved Rec Center from closure. This approach is entirely out of place especially with Tom Cruise’s character at the helm, directing play like a one-eyed Varsity Blues quarterback.
In my personal opinion, what would have saved Valkyrie from the weight of its own tedium would have been an in-depth exploration of the Robocop-esque possibilities opened up by the loss of Cruise’s right hand. While they did give him a medal for his sacrifice, wouldn’t it be more in character for the Nazis to instead graft some kind of mechanical superweapon onto his stump. Maybe a robotic claw, or a pulse cannon, anything to spice up this bland re-telling of a story whose ending everyone already knows. This would have opened up an awesome ending where instead of trying to take Hitler out with a bomb, the two of them could have dueled, Return of the Jedi-style, with Cruise ultimately being wracked with bolts of lightning as he writhed on the floor of the fully-operational Death S – I mean concrete bunker. I guess George Lucas wasn’t available.
Yes, that's the sorry, confused state of mind this film left me in. Wishing that George fucking Lucas had worked on the script.
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