MGM // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 3rd, 2009
"We were not all like him."
The great hope for United Artists may not have set theaters on fire, but if there's any justice in the home video world, this outstanding film -- and outstanding Blu-ray -- will open up a blitzkrieg of retail sales.
Valkyrie tells the story of a daring assassination attempt of Hitler during World War II, when Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible: III) implemented an ingenious plan to topple the Nazis. Aided by a circle of like-minded resistance fighters -- at all levels of the National Socialist government -- Stauffenberg must depend on perfect timing, flawless plotting, and straight-out luck to pull off the impossible.
And yes, even though you know how this ends (SPOILER! Not well), this thing is just balls-out exciting.
I know it's the default sentiment in virtually all Valkyrie reviews, but it's true: it is no small feat for director Bryan Singer to craft such a kick-ass, nail-biting thriller out of a story in which everyone knows the ending. You're going into this fully knowledgeable of tragedy, and the protagonists are going to likely end up on the business end of a Luger bullet, but for the love of Eisenhower, do not let that dissuade you from checking this movie out.
Valkyrie is top-shelf filmmaking, down to its bones; a two-hour excursion that blasts by with nary a gratuitous explosion or karate chop to be found. The film's power and effectiveness comes from a riveting true story (with much of the dialogue lifted from journals) and a profound amount of Singer-generated tension. The characters -- all of which are issued grade-A performances by the likes of Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp and Kenneth Branagh -- are sympathetic and even though they're (SPOILER!) doomed, I guarantee you'll be invested in what they're doing. I desperately wanted them to pull this off and it's a tribute to Singer, Cruise, and company that I thought (more than a few times) they could actually do it.
The thing with Valkyrie is that you never feel like the good guys are safe...ever. That was Hitler's Germany; you either fall in line and serve your oath, or get strung up with piano wire. That dark cloud is omnipresent, fueling the tension. When Operation Valkyrie is put into effect and Singer tightens the tale so it's almost real-time, the unease is jacked up by degrees.
One final thing, if you'll allow me to digress a bit: watching something like Valkyrie, where the twisted nightmare of the Third Reich is brought to such perfect, hellish life (and the production design is perfect), it serves as a reminder of just how deeply evil Hitler's lunacy ran. Frankly, the way comparisons to Hitler and Nazis have played a role in fringe political discourse is astoundingly insulting to the heroes who risked everything to usurp the National Socialists, especially those depicted here. But onward and upward.
Valkyrie is a heck of a Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is perfect. From the stunning opening desert scenes in North Africa to the swastika-swaddled streets of Berlin, this is a high-def presentation that should easily earn reference quality status. Color levels, resolution, clarity, everything you expect to see cranked up in Blu-ray, is presented in sterling fashion. Audio is just as impressive, with the 5.1 DTS-HD cranking out a clean, aggressive mix that shifts from active war-time effects to a sustained tone of suspense.
There are quality extras here too: Two commentaries with Cruise, Singer, and writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander; high-def featurettes looking at the set design of Africa and Berlin, the airplanes, and a general-making of; a very cool walking tour through the major landmarks of the resistance, given by Stauffenberg's grandson; a lengthy standard-def interview with Cruise and Singer in New York; and, finally, a humongous documentary called "The Valkyrie Legacy," an awesome overview of the multiple resistance attempts to kill Hitler and ultimately Nazi Germany.
A terrific movie and a top-notch Blu-ray add up to a must-have title.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Digital Copy