Nazis make great bad guys. They're evil, they're loathsome; heck, even their uniforms are scary. From movies to comic books to video games, Nazis are the go-to-guys for unqualified malevolence, as well as they should be. But what about the good Nazis? You know; the guys who fell in line with the party's financial and political beliefs long before Hitler revealed himself as the genocidal maniac we know him as today. I know, I know; suggesting that there could possibly be such a thing as a "good Nazi" sounds a bit specious, but there were thousands upon thousands of men who wore the uniform who absolutely despised everything Hitler stood for. And there are stories of such men who attempted to do something about it. Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie" tells one such tale.
An organization of politicians, military leaders, and assorted intellectual types have been meeting in secret, their sole purpose to overthrow Hitler's regime, end the war, and save Europe. The group hatches a plot -the brainchild of the jaded Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) - which would use one of Hitler's own emergency protocols against him; the titular Operation: Valkyrie. The plan would see Stauffenberg use his newfound proximity to the Fuhrer to assassinate him, while his cohorts in Berlin would stage something of an invisible coup utilizing the reserve forces and a little political sleight-of-hand to prevent the S.S. from taking over. If all went as planned, Germany would be free of Hitler's reign before its populace even knew what was happening. Of course, as we all know, the plan didn't succeed, but knowing the outcome doesn't make Valkyrie any less suspenseful or mesmerizing.
I have to admit that I initially scoffed at the idea of Tom Cruise playing a German officer, but he's quite good in the role, lending his character a quiet charisma tinged with the sort of world-weariness only a man of war can know. Director, Bryan Singer, eases us into the character, as we first see Stauffenberg jotting down his controversial thoughts in his diary while Cruise narrates in German, and slowly gives way to English. It's trick we've seen before, but it's effectively implemented here, and goes a long way toward suspending our disbelief. Singer surrounds Cruise with an excellent supporting cast, including Terrence Stamp as the organization's leader, Ludwig Beck, Tom Wilkinson as the mercurial military "careerist" General Friedrich Fromm, Bill Nighy as the indecisive General Friedrich Olbricht, and Kenneth Branagh as Stauffenberg's mentor, Major-General Henning von Tresckow. One of the best performances comes from David Bamber, whose portrayal of Adolf Hitler as a detached and delusional megalomaniac is far more effective (and frightening) than that of the frothing lunatic we're used to seeing in these sorts of films.
Singer's direction is spot-on, here, as he relays a very complex story involving dozens of players with an efficiency that keeps the film moving along at a breakneck pace, yet still manages to convey its subtle intricacies. The film is also wonderfully "intimate" for such an epic undertaking, allowing us to really get to know these characters, thus heightening our emotional investment in their fate, despite already knowing it.
Valkryie goosesteps onto Blu-ray in fine fashion, with a solid 1080p transfer that boasts vivid colors, excellent contrast, and nary a hint of compression. There's a fine cinematic grain throughout, but I felt it lent to the film's more "vintage" aesthete (along with the somewhat subdued, almost sepia-toned look of interiors). Detail is impressive, but, overall, a bit spotty as standout scenes, like the camera zooming in on a record during a bombing raid, showcase a stunning level of detail while other scenes exhibit a softness that renders the image somewhat flat.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is simply superb, offering nearly overwhelming bass response (the fighter plane attack at the outset of the film literally shook the glass on my table), crisp dialogue, and a nice assortment of surround effects - little details, like footfalls in the hallways, the sound of rubble falling to the ground after an explosion - filled the soundfield, and made for a truly immersive experience.
Extras in the two disc set include a commentary by Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer, and writer, Christopher McQuarrie, as well as a second commentary featuring McQuarrie and co-writer, Nathan Alexander.
More than three hours worth of featurettes make up the bulk of the extras, with The Journey to Valkyrie (HD), The African Front Sequence(HD), and Recreating Berlin(HD)offering up a bounty of behind-the-scenes look at every facet of the prodcution, while The Road to Resistance (HD) and the mammoth, 115-minute documentary, The Valkyrie Legacy(HD), focus on the actual history behind the film, with the latter offering an exhaustive look at the rise and fall of the Nazi regime..
Rounding out the extras are a Q&A with Cruise and Singer in 92nd Street Y (SD), and a second disc featuring a digital copy of the film.
Valkyrie is an expertly crafted, wonderfully acted, and thoroughly entertaining espionage thriller that earns a place amongst the genre's best offerings, and MGM's wonderful treatment of the title makes for a stellar Blu-ray package. The solid transfer, fantastic audio, and incredible assortment of quality extras make this a disc you'll be sure to revisit often, and it definitely deserves a spot in your collection.