Saturday, February 14, 2009


We're Busted

Since it's based on a true event, unless you have your head buried in the sand, you'll know the outcome, or at least the end result, of Operation Valkyrie, an ambitious plan put into the hands of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) together with his entourage of high ranking officers and political officials in a coup-de-tat to bring down the Fuhrer, disrupt his chain of command, and assume control of Berlin, thanks to quite a contingency strategy that Hitler had. If it had been successful, history would turn out rather different, but we are where we are now. So what makes it still a compelling story to sit through?

The pace at which Bryan Singer puts this film through that's what, at breakneck speed rarely slowing down to take a breather. And that's quite the winning formula actually, keeping things tight and moving with clockwork military precision. For those who may want to take this as a loose reference for research into unsuccessful attempts at Adolf Hitler's life (this one being the last before the Allies came knocking), it compacted in two hours the entire recruitment to execution stage, where treason is the order of the day, not knowing who to trust, and to what degree.

As explained, with any military operation, nothing goes according to plan. Recruiting is a dangerous exercise, because in a regime where everyone swears an oath of loyalty to one person, it perhaps provided the magical formula on defining loyalties, which is strangely curious yet effective. Decisions on who to believe and who to side, especially when facts become muddled and with the lack of information, it left many wondering and questioning their personal beliefs, whether to stick to the status quo, or jump on the bandwagon in the hopes of effecting change, while putting your neck on the chopping block.

Providence too played a huge role in the film, with changing of key locations and the ease with which certain key elements of the plan get arranged and completed. However, any plans which involve large underground group members each having their own say, or if pass the point of no return they waiver and are not resolute in seeing things through, it puts everything up for grabs. Improvisation without hesitation in execution, especially without thorough, objective and robust planning devoid of emotion, becomes an Achilles heel, with wanting to strike fast an overbearing condition in the plan proving to add complexity for everyone. As with the adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth, plans that rely on inch perfect precision execution, given too many variables on the table, are formulas for disaster.

And what's this about the accent you say? Kate Winslet did a German-accented character to perfection in The Reader, and hence the awards she garnered for that. Bryan Singer may have opted for the cast to not need to put on a fake front (given after all quite a method employed to transition from German to common English), and I felt that given the strong performances all round, it was whether to invest the time to instill that kind of discipline to speak with an accent, which may result in only marginal incremental in authenticity, or choose to forgo it since it's not going to drastically affect the narrative. So accent or not, it's a small issue really.

The cast is a mouth watering one, which could also account for the appeal I suppose. Tom Cruise leads the ensemble cast, even if I found his physical defect of the lack of a hand and missing fingers somewhat distracting, because I always tend to stare at it, in wicked anticipation that the sleeve was cut too short, or if the CG guys left a tell-tale mark. And as mentioned, the cast is nothing but spectacular on paper - Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp (who seems to be in almost every supporting role these days), Eddie Izzard, Jamie Parker who played excellently the loyal Lieutenant under Cruise's von Stauffenberg, and with what I deem as cameos by Kenneth Branagh, as well as the grossly underused Carice van Houten who was also in another WWII-set film in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book.

I suppose fans of Downfall would probably be interested to take a look at a key even that took place within Hitler's chain of command, that likely had sowed additional seeds of suspicion to the dictator leading to the final days of WWII. Save for the initial one-sided battle at the African front in the first few mintues of the film, the rest became a battle of the minds and resolve of its participants in a fierce power struggle. Definitely recommended for WWII buffs.

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