PAGE TO SCREEN: “Valkyrie” by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander

Posted by · 8:44 am · August 19th, 2008

Page to Screen at In Contention“God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find just ten righteous men. I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”

So what has Christopher McQuarrie, the man responsible for creating Keyser Soze, been up to since “The Usual Suspects” (and the oft-forgotten “The Way of the Gun”)? The answer is “Valkyrie,” an original screenplay of the true story about the men who set out to assassinate Hitler and end his regime.

History tells us (so please, no spoiler whining) that they lose, but McQuarrie and co-writer Nathan Alexader’s script uses this to build tension and dread rather than render a yarn completely neutered. Spending time on plot seems redundant as the film is entirely plot and, naturally, there are dozens of previous films and PBS specials telling this very story.

The script is thankfully a fairly tight one (thankfully so after the indulgence of “Superman Returns.”  It’s almost entirely dedicated to the German’s rebellious mission to kill Hitler. Only a handful of pages are focus on life outside of the plot and mission, and naturally those are given to the hero of the piece, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, to be played by Tom Cruise.

Stauffenberg, a German war hero (with the scars to prove it) joins the plot to kill Hitler well after it’s begun, but it’s his influence and skills that bring it to it’s true potential. The scenes that aren’t dedicated to the mission follow Stauffenberg at home with his four children, and more importantly, his wife Nina (“Black Book” breakout Carice van Houten will take up the role).

My favorite scene, an elegantly played out wordless “conversation” between Stauffenberg and Nina, almost fails simply because it’s a shooting star in the script. It’s so good, so connectable and tells so much about these two characters and their marriage that it frustrated me to not see more of this.

Stauffenberg is a fine character, and it’s easy to see what attracted Cruise to the role. It’s not particulary showy (despite the deformities he takes on in his opening scene). Stauffenberg is a cool, crisp professional, who knows how to do his job and how to do it damn well. For someone who’s career has been so troubled lately, a hero role like this might be just what the doctor ordered. However, surrounding Cruise with an almost entirely British cast might make him stick out like a sore thumb.

It probably doesn’t help matters that the ensemble is so very impressive: Stphen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Brannagh, Bill Nighy! The trailers suggest Cruise and company aren’t playing the accent game, which is a relief, but we’ll see how well he can mix with this cast from across the pond.

The ongoing talk of how, when, why and where the group will carry out it’s operation does becomes tedious after a while, but imagining how it might play on the screen lightens any doubt I might have. With some trimming (which might be tough, given the “all business all the time” nature of the script), “Valkyrie” could be one lean mother of a thriller. With a few additional scenes similar to the silent interaction between Stauffenberg and Nina, “Valkyrie” could even become something more.

Whether these cuts or additions will be (or have been) made, we’ll have to wait and see. But really, when you cast those actors in supporting roles, give them the meat they deserve, you can get fireworks.  And we as an audience yearn to see them feast on it.

As far as Oscar talk goes, the film has such an impressive ensemble supporting Cruise (whose role I can’t imagine being nod-worthy in such a packed year) that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the film take off for a SAG ensemble bid or some BAFTA loving.

For there to be any sole recognition among the crowd, keep an eye on Terrance Stamp as Ludwig Beck, the grandfatherly supporter of Stauffenberg and one of the founders of the mission. Though a small role, Beck is one of the more emotionally engaging characters in the story and it’s the kind of role the veteran could really sink his teeth into and come out with some overdue kudos.

I’d call him an outside shot (with all the moving around, everything about “Valkyrie” is an outside shot), but with an oddly sparse year in the supporting category, he could sneak in if the film proves a success.

And that’s kind of the point with “Valkyrie.  Seemingly more of a people pleaser than an Oscar chaser, the film I imagine from a reading of the script boasts enough strong qualities to make one pause over the stranger choices made behind the scenes with reshoots and release date changes. While the script never truly grabbed hold of me the way I kept wishing it would, director Bryan Singer certainly has over-stocked the film with enough actors that know how to elevate material to great heights (and I’m counting Cruise in that, despite how miscast I may feel he is).

It’s nice to see Singer out of the superhero sandbox, and it’s nice to see McQuarrie doing anything, but I wonder if that’s all “Valkyrie” will add up to in the end: a mission for certain players to re-establish themselves before moving on to bigger and better things. It promises to be a solid thriller by a solid writer and directed by a solid director. But this time, given the talent involved, I wish the mission aimed a little bit higher.

NEXT WEEK: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by Eric Roth

→ 3 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Page to Screen

3 responses so far

  • 1 8-19-2008 at 4:03 pm

    Brian said...

    I hope this really does well. Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise…on paper it sounds amazing. And they could all use a good movie at this point. I would also hate to see UA with another under-performing film on its hands.

  • 2 12-04-2008 at 10:59 am

    Harris Damashek said...

    This movie was amazing! Tautly written, directed and acted. I haven’t been on the edge of my seat for a movie for the duration for a long time. A smart, historical thriller!

  • 3 3-05-2010 at 6:56 am

    Natalia said...

    I did not read the script though, in my personal opinion, I like to see the final outcome directly. And I saw “Valkyrie” four times to five, and Iliked it so much that I started to search for that man’s lifen and the plot in the Internet soon after seeing the movie for the very first time For me, it was the first Bryan Singer’s movie I watched, but I’d already seen much about Tom Cruise, and in this movie, he looked just as awesome as he usually did (except in Lions for Lambs, where every single deetail was horrible) and, as for the rest of the cast, I couldn’t say which of them did best. In a nutshell, I highly recommend this movie (at least just one watching, then, it’s your own choice.) All I can say is that you won’t regret…