Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DVD review: "Valkyrie"

Even with an eye patch, a stump where his right hand used to be and two missing fingers on his left, Tom Cruise still looks every bit the dashing movie star in "Valkyrie," the tale of the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and stage a coup against the Nazi regime.

It's an apt metaphor for the movie itself, which is skillfully made and great to look at, but ultimately registers as a glammed-up retread of history.

The best portions deal with the tactics of the assassination attempt itself -- Cruise, as a wounded war hero, sneaks a bomb into Hitler's Wolf's Lair bunker, hides it under the conference table, and must make his escape amidst the ensuing confusion. But the story reaches this pinnacle fairly early, and what follows is a dizzying and droning sequence of phone calls and running soldiers as the conspirators attempt to seal the coup.

This is one of the few instances where a movie could have been improved by running longer. The personal and family life of Cruise's character, Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, is given such short shrift that when he calls his wife to let her know the plot has failed and he is doomed, we can barely remember who she is.

The DVD comes with an excellent set of additional features. Kevin Burns directs an in-depth, 40-minute historical documentary of the actual events surrounding the coup, including mesmerizing footage of a judge insulting the surviving conspirators at the show trials that followed. A 16-minute making-of doc follows the usual patterns.

There are two top-notch commentary tracks. The first is by Cruise, director Bryan Singer and co-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie -- an all-too rare collaboration of a film's principal talents. Among their many insights is an acknowledgement that they consciously recruited actors from other World War II movies, including "Downfall" and "Black Book." McQuarrie pulls double duty by contributing another separate commentary track with his writing partner, Nathan Alexander.

Movie: 2.5 stars
Extras: 3.5 stars

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