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Valkyrie gets the pulse racing, despite Cruise

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By Scotty McDaniel

3.5 out of 5 stars

Title: Valkyrie

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander

Starring: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson

Running time: 120 minutes

Released: Dec. 25, 2008

The World War II era was one of great evil and heroics, so it makes sense that so many movies are made to share its stories.

One of the latest is Valkyrie - the story of one-eyed Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise) secretly uniting with like-minded officials in Germany to plot an end to Adolf Hitler's evil reign on their country and the rest of the world.

What's so refreshing about Valkryie is that is shows heroism from the German side of the war, and best of all it's based on a true story.

And it's a good one, too. With 15 known attempts on Hitler's life, the movie shares the story of the attempt that came closest.

The plan was for Stauffenberg to bring plastic explosives into a military bunker in the Wolf's Lair near Rastenburg, East Prussia, where Hitler and his top officials were attending a briefing on July 15, 1944. Once the blast had killed Hitler, the plan was to use his own internal emergency plan - Operation Valkyrie - which ordered the arrest of SS and the Nazi Party to prevent them from trying to take over Germany with Hitler gone. Instead, the plan would allow a new government to take form.

However, some confusion led to the attack being called off at the last minute.

Five days later, July 20, Stauffenberg attended another military briefing to try again. This time, the explosive detonated.

Those who are familiar with their war history know that the blast didn't kill Hitler, but the great thing about the movie is that it keeps you on the edge of your seat anyway.

Seeing conspirators trying to plot behind the backs of a vast military sworn to obey Hitler is nail-biting suspense. To get caught is to die, and that's provides the thrills in the second half of the film.

A solid supporting cast successfully spreads the uneasiness of treason with passionately delivered lines and looks. The pressure builds and builds as Stauffenberg carries a suitcase filled with explosives past suspicious SS, while colleagues in Berlin sit quietly by the phone for what seems like an eternity, waiting in a cold sweat to hear if their plan worked or not. Their worry is palpable.

Cruise, on the other hand, takes the role of Stauffenberg and turns him into a robot. For nearly all of the film he's stuck speaking in monotone, staring blankly with his good eye, and conveying absolutely no feeling. And when playing a severely wounded veteran of the war, an intense nationalist and dedicated father who is taking part in a major plot against Hitler's life, it really seems like some emotion should be necessary. His counterparts show the internal struggles that war and treachery bring, but Cruise consistently looks like his mind is elsewhere.

Adolf Hitler (David Bamber), the Führer of Germany, appears as a socially awkward and creepy man with a big dream, and the way Cruise plays Stauffenberg, he doesn't seem to be much different.

That said, Nazi Germany comes to life through the sets and costumes, showing the power that existed in the country even as it was about to lose the war.

When the suitcase bomb explodes, it sends everyone rushing to take control of Germany, only to learn that Hitler has survived with only bruises and a few burns, and he's not happy.

Regrettably, the film tries to conclude with a Braveheart-esque final death cry for righteousness to wrench at the audience's heart, but considering the final line is the first evidence of any emotion from Cruise, it doesn't have the ringing impact it should.

Still, Valkyrie is an adventure worth witnessing.