- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The story of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg is fascinating, a tale of a cultured officer’s rebuke of the sadistic regime he was forced to serve. His attempted coup in the closing years of World War II is right up there, in terms of bravery, with the actions of the men and women who hid Jews from the concentration camps and the poorly armed partisans who fought the Wehrmacht throughout occupied Europe.

“Valkyrie” isn’t a bad retelling of von Stauffenberg’s story, although it’s far from transcendent. It’s a perfectly competent piece of moviemaking, as one might expect from a polished filmmaker such as Bryan Singer and an excellent screenwriter such as Christopher McQuarrie (the team that brought us “The Usual Suspects”).

The supporting cast is top-notch, featuring British veterans Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson. The lead performance isn’t bad, either: Although Tom Cruise lacks the gravitas necessary to truly bring a man of von Stauffenberg’s stature to life, he does a more-than-adequate job of making us believe in the German officer and his disgust with the Nazi regime.

Mr. Cruise plays von Stauffenberg as an earnest military man, a professional soldier interested in saving the lives of his men, serving his country with honor and doing his family proud. While stationed in the wilds of Africa, he suffers a serious injury, resulting in the eye patch seen in the movie’s trailers - as well as the loss of one hand and the mangling of the other.

This is all quite believable, but it’s something of a stretch to see Mr. Cruise as a Teutonic aristocrat; he never disappears fully into the role, and his failure to subsume his essential Cruiseness is a problem for the overall believability of the project.

Leaving that aside, the movie is tightly paced and works as a historical thriller. Well, it works as well as a historical thriller can when you know the outcome going into the theater. Maintaining tension in the face of a foregone conclusion is no mean trick, but Mr. Singer and company do as well as anyone could hope.

★★½

TITLE: “Valkyrie”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence and brief strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Bryan Singer, written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: http://valkyrie.united artists.com

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