Tom Cruise hasn’t exactly been one to shy away from controversy. At times, he even brings it upon himself (see: Oprah sofa dancing, squaring off against Matt Lauer and going off about a fellow Scientologist’s use of pain medications). But it’s not just off-camera antics that have taken Cruise in a new direction, as his recent turn in Valkyrie indicates. Rather than play a Maverick or head off on some impossible mission, Cruise in Valkyrie plays the leading role in a nonfiction story about a band of Germans who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and take Nazi Germany in an entirely more docile direction.
The movie’s premise sounds like fiction, but it’s 100 percent true. It seems so fictional, in fact, that Cruise had to be convinced of its basis in reality before agreeing to take on the role, which ends up being not one of his best, but certainly one of his most interesting. In Valkyrie, which is now available on Blu-ray Disc, Cruise decides to embrace a small but powerful group of anti-Nazi forces after his tank brigade finds itself on the losing end of an air raid. Fearing not for his own life but for his children’s future, Cruise quick ascends the ranks of a governmental order quietly pursuing to overthrow Hitler’s regime. After several failed attempts, Cruise eventually appears to be successful, only to have the entire plot fall through at the last minute before being gunned-down by an SS firing squad.
Valkyrie is one of several recent WWII-themed Blu-ray releases, and like the others, it has moments of action but is focused more on the narrative. Because of this, the 1080p video looks as good as you’d expect, but not so good that the action-film movie buff will be dancing all night proclaiming its glory. The color palette is by and large rather muted, limited to grays and greens with the occasional splash of Nazi red. In spite of this, the AVC-encoded video manages to keep contrast levels high. The opening 10 minutes, in which Cruise is in the desert with his tank brigade, represent the best video quality and diversity Valkyrie has to offer. The rest of the film, while good, simply doesn’t produce that many visual “wow” moments.
The audio delivers slightly more consistent results, if only because 75 percent of the surround-channel action comes in 10 percent of the film time (the tank scene, the assassination attempt on Hitler and the final climactic moments). Because it’s more of a drama than an action film, Valkyrie relies heavily on dialogue to convey its plot, which means the volume balancing, voices and ambient noise levels are fantastic. If you’ve ever thought lossless audio only benefitted when the things that were “lossless” were massive explosions, I dare you to watch Valkyrie and leave the room thinking that “lossless” dialogue isn’t just as powerful. Whispers in the halls and Hitler’s low voice are all the more powerful when heard on a lossless audio setup.
The bonus features in Valkyrie kick off with two commentary tracks, including one with Tom Cruise, Director Bryan Singer and Producer/Co-Writer Christopher McQuarrie, and one with McQuarrie and fellow Co-Writer Nathan Alexander. It’s amazing to see a main actor, especially one as high-profile as Tom Cruise, take the time to sit down for a feature-length commentary track, and this instance is particularly encouraging considering his level of engagement.
The Journey to Valkyrie (15:56, HD and in 5.1) is a great making-of featurette that explains how the writers discovered the real-life story on which Valkyrie is based, and it even augments their explanation with interviews with the relatives of the four men who form the backbone of the film. From there it outlines their production timelines and challenges, and how the entire cast and crew was chosen (or chose) to get involved with the film.
The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide (9:08, HD) is a brief history lesson about the era in which the film takes place and how the resistance rose in Berlin. Narrated by the real-life grandson of one of the men on which the film is based, this mini documentary uses a mix of expert interviews, color and black-and-white photos and archival and present videos to deliver one of the most educational bonus features to hit Blu-ray in recent The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.memory. In all seriousness, this bonus feature is worthy of airing on History Channel. Amazingly, this “documentary lite” is outdone tenfold by The Valkyrie Legacy (1:54:15, HD), another educational bonus feature that explores the lives and motives of the handful of men who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler. Using modern-day video, archival footage, interviews and an incredible amount of research, this bonus feature seems ripped straight from PBS or History Channel, but with a slight movie-promotion bend. To put it mildly, this bonus feature — although arguably ridiculously long — is an absolute must watch for anyone who enjoys this film or WWII history.
The African Front Sequence (7:01, HD) explores how the African scene was filmed and provides historical insight into the circumstances behind it. However, it’s not just comprised of a few scenes of cameramen getting in the way, but interviews with the writers, directors and even Tom Cruise that explain the painstaking steps that the entire cast and crew took to create a scene with as much historical accuracy as possible.
Following in the African scene footsteps, Taking to the Air (7:32, HD) explores the vintage planes used in Valkyrie, including how the production team identified, located and piloted them. Much of this featurette is comprised of plane specifics and gratuitous shots of them flying over the crew, but it also thrives on shots of Tom Cruise getting giddy like a schoolgirl when seeing them (he’s an aviation buff) and how the cinematography team setup each shot to make their presentation as dramatic as possible.
Re-Creating Berlin (6:51, HD) includes interviews with the director and production team outlining the challenges associated with creating a city that has undergone such significant change in the decades since.
92nd Street Y: Reel Pieces with Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer (38:57, 480p) is an interesting choice for a bonus feature, because although it discusses the film’s historical circumstances, it essentially duplicates the information that has already been presented in the features preceding it. The format is also so dramatically different — an on-stage panel interview a la something you’d see on public access TV — that it lends a certain low-production feeling to a roster of bonus features that are otherwise very well produced.
Valkyrie isn’t Tom Cruise’s best role, nor is it the best WWII-themed movie to release in the past year. However, its real-life story is remarkable (and just about unknown State-side until now), and its lineup of bonus features is great for anyone with even a shred of interest in WWII history. In terms of sheer entertainment and “emotional connection” value, Defiance is a better bet, but for anyone looking for a unique story from the inside of Germany during WWII, Valkyrie tells a remarkable tale.
Click here to buy Valkyrie on Blu-rayat Amazon.com.
- Score: 7.9
— Jonas Allen