CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Bryan Singer’s ‘Valkyrie’ With Tom Cruise Mistakes Morose For Intense
CHICAGO – Tom Cruise can be a powerfully vibrant actor in the right material but he’s horrendously miscast in Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie,” a decision amplified by poor direction that drains this true story of an assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler of its inherent power.
When he’s in the right material, like his great work in “Magnolia,” “Minority Report,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” and “Rainman,” Cruise can be impossible to take your eyes off. He’s a generally underrated actor who has watched his off-screen antics steal the thunder from his actual talent.
Having said that, he’s quite simply bad in “Valkyrie”. It’s arguably his worst performance. Cruise and Singer have mistaken being morose for being serious and have made a film that, consequently, ends up dull instead of intense. Cruise’s character needs to be the passionate lynchpin for one of the most infamous assassination attempts in world history, but the actor’s lack of on-screen resonance and Singer’s general weaknesses as a storyteller punch a hole in the potential of their story.
As World War II drew to a close, even officials close to Hitler knew that he was leading Germany and all of Europe down a very dangerous path. There were several attempts on his life. The most widespread and nearly effective attempt came in the summer of 1944 and was spearheaded by a recently-wounded soldier named Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise).
Assassinating someone as protected as Hitler would take a complex scheme, one that required that von Stauffenberg rewrite an official order known as ‘Valkyrie’, the document that determined the use of the reserve army in the case of a coup. With the help of Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), General Friedrick Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), and General Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), von Stauffenberg put in a motion a plan that could have changed the world. In fact, if not for a last-minute location change, it probably would have.
The plot to kill Hitler involves over a dozen characters, explosives, and even a shoot-out. On paper, it should make for both a history lesson and an intense action ride for audiences around the world. On paper.
What’s most shocking about “Valkyrie” is how slow and dull the film ended up. The supporting cast alone, including the great Tom Wilkinson, Nighy, Branagh, Izzard, Stamp, and the stunning-but-wasted Carice van Houten should have been enough alone to give the movie a spark, but Singer lets them all down. The interesting supporting cast is the only reason to see “Valkyrie” and all that saves it from complete disaster.
Most damagingly, Singer and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel, shoot nearly everything in extreme, claustrophobic close-up, never giving the audience the sensation that we know exactly what’s going on and what’s at stake.
And writers Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander don’t provide nearly enough of a back story for any of their characters, as if filming a scene where von Stauffenberg writes an angry letter about Hitler and another where he’s injured in combat would be enough for us to get behind him as a lead. History makes it easy to support a lead trying to kill one of the most evil men in history, but imagine how much more effective “Valkyrie” would be if he was a fully, three-dimensional character of his very own.
13-Image Slideshow From Valkyrie
If “Valkyrie” was just an action movie, the lack of back stories wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not effective as a thrill ride either. Cruise and Singer take themselves way too seriously for that. Singer can’t just make a historical drama or an action adventure movie, he has to make the best of both that anyone has ever seen. It’s that dull self-seriousness that sinks “Valkyrie”. It’s ironic that a film about an attempt that had some pretty serious flaws feels like its creators made a few mistakes of their own.