Released during Christmas of last year in North America (and a month later in Europe), 'Valkyrie' unveils the incredible true story of the infamous conspiracy behind the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. When it was announced that Tom Cruise would be portraying the German hero in the movie, the news sparked controversy overseas due the actor's involvement with Scientology, even though many Germans supported the initiative of just spreading awareness of the historical event. The release dates also kept jumping back and forth from a spotty marketing campaign. To try and patch things up, the focus shifted from Cruise to highlight director Bryan Singer, and that somehow led to trailers with the theme music from the 'Saw' films. The mishandling bled into the film itself--and despite grossing $200 million worldwide at the box office, 'Valkyrie' turned out to be somewhat of a letdown.
The power of the Nazi regime had grown to unimaginable heights as more and more neighboring countries continued to fall to the tyranny. Many Germans--including a few of those in Hitler's own army, were beginning to see the toll the Führer's madness was taking on Germany and the rest of the world, but nobody was in any position to put a stop to it. Anyone who didn't support Hitler was obviously against him, and most of them knew all too well what he had in store for those who opposed him.
Even so, a very small number of soldiers, politicians, and others formed a secret resistance from within. This included the headstrong Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) who volunteered to chop off the head of the dragon by assassinating Hitler himself. But to ensure the beast stayed dead, Stauffenberg pushed forward the ingenious scheme to stage a coup d’état by activating Hitler's own emergency measure known as Operation Walküre or Valkyrie. It was a plan about as sturdy as a house of cards, but if it worked this would enable the conspirators to use the German Reserve Army to swoop in and squash the remaining SS leaders before they even knew what hit them.
The topic of Nazis is familiar territory for Singer. He's the man behind the big screen adaptation of Stephen King's 'Apt Pupil' and revisited the subject with the prologue involving Magneto in the first 'X-Men' film. However with 'Valkyrie,' it feels as if he bit off a little more than he could chew. It's a slick and stylish film for sure, but the problem is that he tries to do too much in too short a time. The first half slowly plods along, introducing each of the conspirators, and revealing some of the side stories that occurred in their lives, except there is very little character development since so much goes on all at once. In a film like this, we need to be able to feel emotions and understand exactly what is driving the protagonists, only here it's kind of convoluted. Then the second half really picks up speed, so much so that it's almost like watching an entirely different movie. There are some solid moments of tension and suspense, particularly when Stauffenberg is in the Wolf's Lair, although they aren't nearly as potent as they could have been if the first hour had built a better foundation. Adding an additional half hour or so to concentrate on the characters themselves wouldn't have made them seem so one-dimensional.
Also while I don't think Tom Cruise is as bad in the film as some critics are making him out to be, I do think he was miscast. He definitely looks the part (when compared to images of the real Stauffenberg), but he felt wooden and almost uncomfortable in the role to me. I also didn't think he exuded the charisma that Stauffenberg is said to have had to rally everything into motion. I can understand Singer jumping on one of the biggest draws at the box office--I just think the part was better suited for someone who brings a little more passion to the screen.
My main gripe, though, is the way the accents were handled in the film. Pretty well all of the Germans sound British--all except for Stauffenberg of course who sounds American. What's odd about this is in the bonus features the word "authenticity" is tossed around like a hot potato--we're shown how many of the actors bear an uncanny resemblance to their real life counterparts as well as how critical it was to film in actual locations where many of the events took place. Time and time again, the cast and crew stress how important it was to be authentic and then they go and drop the ball on something as simple as dialect? What gives? I know some will argue the explanation that Cruise's narration was in German at the beginning and it slowly drifted into English, and I have no problems with this. What I have an issue with is consistency. Either tell everybody to sound British--or everyone to sound American--but let's not mix and match especially on historical projects. Seriously, every time Tom Cruise spoke amidst all of the European tongues it really threw me for a loop and rubbed me the wrong way. In turn, I felt disconnected from the movie because of it and apparently I'm not the only one, either. It just came across as cheap when looking at bigger picture.
I realize my little rant might make it seem like 'Valkyrie' is a bad film, but that really isn't the case. It tells a very important story and shows the rest of the world that not all Germans belonged to or supported the Nazi party. However, the film has parts where the filmmakers zigged when they should have zagged--and it's a bummer because it's clear the potential was there to achieve greatness.
MGM marches 'Valkyrie' onto a BD-50 utilizing a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.85:1) encode that's bright, clean, and highly detailed. Except for a few minor nitpicks, this transfer is pretty spiffy.
The image has a slightly subdued palette, but not the bleak, overly washed-out look common to films set during World War II. The reds of the Nazi flags are exceptionally vivid and become the focal point of many scenes. Contrast is bright, and there's a strong level of depth, too. Sometimes the detail is fantastic, just look at the individual grains of sand on Stauffenberg's face as he lies unconscious in the African desert. Shadow detailing isn't quite as sharp, however. Blacks are consistently solid, and I didn't notice much in terms of print flaws. A few scenes do suffer from mild bouts of digital noise--most noticeably an early exchange between Cruise and Branagh's characters as well as a handful of other places--but overall this transfer generally still shines in the visual department.
The U.S. version of 'Valkyrie' on Blu-ray is reported to be region-locked and therefore will only function in Region A PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
For the most part, the lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on this Blu-ray is a powerfully robust one, but at times it does suffer from a somewhat disappointing imbalance that really could have (and should have) been better.
My biggest complaint with the whole mix is that the dialogue is considerably softer than most other releases. Right from the get-go during the scenes in Africa, the volume needs to be cranked up a few notches more than the norm to hear every spoken word clearly, and then when we're treated to bombing air strikes it is quite jarring to say the least. Surround usage is great, though, as is the presence from the LFE channel and John Ottman's score. Sadly, if only the center channel was tweaked properly we could have had a real winner here.
The disc also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in French and Spanish, as well as optional English SDH, Spanish, French, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, and Portuguese subtitles.
The first set of supplements are all of the same ones included on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD.
'Valkyrie' is helmed by a visionary director, stars one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and tells the amazing true story of quite possibly the greatest conspiracy in the history of mankind. Despite these facts, however, the film just doesn't cohere very well, and in the end, it lacks the spark necessary to transform mediocrity into something truly memorable. The Blu-ray looks sharp, and even with the soft dialogue, the audio isn't so bad, either. It's the feature-length documentary 'The Valkyrie Legacy' though, that really boosts the overall value of this release (essentially providing customers two features for the price of one)--making 'Valkyrie' a title that's easily recommended.