Monday, May 07, 2007

Script Review: Brian Singer's Next, Valkyrie

Simon Reynolds has completed another of his brilliant script reviews. This time he's only gone and made me jealous by reading Valkyrie, the script for the next film to be directed by Brian Singer. Christopher McQuarrie is, without a doubt, one of my favourite screenwriters, so this really has me excited. Over to Simon...

A look at Tom Cruise’s slate of upcoming films makes for interesting reading. There’s ensemble drama Lions For Lambs; Men, an Allan Loeb comedy; a possible Spike Lee joint; a surely ill-advised Hardy Boys remake with Ben Stiller (though the pair were hilarious in that MTV M:I spoof.); and Valkyrie, a Bryan Singer directed period thriller scripted by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. Cruise is certainly making some diverse choices.

In Valkyrie, he’ll will play Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who becomes integral in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and stage a coup to establish a new German government towards the tail-end of World War II. The story is based on real events, one of the numerous attempts to end Hitler’s life.

An Internet search for “Operation Valkyrie” will reveal much of the film’s plot and the main players for both Hitler and the Stauffenberg ledresistance. Consequently there’s not much point in going into great analysis of the plot since it’s already out there – but most of you will want to know exactly what “Valkyrie” is. So here’s a quick summary: Operation Valkyrie refers to the mobilisation of the German Reserve Army in the event of a national emergency. It’s main purpose was to crush any insurgency in the event of Hitler’s death. Stauffenberg, Ludwig Beck (Former Army Chief of Staff), Friedrich Oldbricht (Chief of Berlin Army Office), Carl Goerdeler (former Mayor of Leipzig) and Erwin Von Witzleben (ex-field marshal of the Military District) lead the resistance and hatch a plan to kill the Fuhrer and take Berlin using Reserve Army. They’ll then quickly establish a new government led by Beck in the hope of calling a truce with the Allies and stop Germany being bombed into oblivion.

With Russia pressing forward from the east and the Allies invading Normandy, Germany is desperate. Yet the delusional Hitler won’t budge, and his terrified inner circle won’t tell him their army is taking a battering. When Stauffenberg is promoted it gives him the perfect opportunity to get close to his target.

McQuarrie and Alexander start Valkyrie slowly in the first act as so many characters need to be introduced that it becomes very easy to get lost. Though it’s being pitched as an ensemble movie, it really belongs to Cruise’s character. Stauffenberg is introduced in North Africa where he becomes horrendously disfigured. Don’t expect the matinee idol Tom Cruise, his character has facial scars, loses an eye (though he occasionally sports a cloudy glass one), and ends up without his right hand and only three fingers on the left!

Whereas McQuarrie juggled several characters in The Usual Suspects, here we get a lot of characters who drop in and out to support Stauffenberg –most of them are a little too thinly sketched.

You’d expect Hitler to be the main villain of this story, but he’s not, McQuarrie and Alexander keep him concealed and at arm’s length for most of the script. General Freidrich Fromm is the character who generates the most contempt.

As a whole, Valkyrie is well constructed – each scene moves the plot hurtling forward to it’s inevitable conclusion and . It does an excellent job of building tension, particularly in the scene where Stauffenberg constructs briefcase bomb and slides it next to Hitler and as the coup begins to take shape towards the end.

It’ll be interesting to see how Singer casts the rest of Valkyrie. Will he support Cruise with high profile stars or perhaps cast lesser known European actors? The role of Beck is brief but would be a great part for an older, distinguished actor. Beck is a gravely ill man looking for redemption, to do one thing that’ll make amends for being a servant to the Nazis. Sean Connery would be great, not only would he be able to unleash his patented “Scottish will do for any accent” accent but if he is indeed retiring it’d be nice to see him go out on something, anything but The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Failing that, Singer could reunite with Frank Langella or Sir Ian McKellan.

Valkyrie could well re-energising the careers of the key creative players. Cruise has a meaty, challenging role he can get to grips (and possibly a run at an Oscar) and McQuarrie is at last getting a project out of development hell.

Also, after ten years playing in the studio toy box, Singer is finally making a “real” movie. For a director who exploded onto the scene with so much promise, it’s been slightly disappointing that he’s been exclusively making superhero films recently.

I have no problems with the genre, in fact I love a good superhero film. After Superman Returns, however, it’s a good move for him to veer away from that franchise. Singer is an excellent director but he comes across as too much of a cynic. That’s ideal for X-Men but not the bright and sunny Superman. He’s miscast as the Man of Steel’s director, as was Richard Lester. Can anyone honestly say that Lester is a worse director than Richard Donner? Yet the latter seemed to have a better grasp of Superman and his world.

Valkyrie, though, is right up Singer’s street and it could very well be his best film since The Usual Suspects. The script clocks in at less than 120 pages, which is rare at this point in time. Many films seem to be bloated and go way over 2 hours when there isn’t a need to. The script tells a fascinating story and it does so with intelligence, style, edge-of-your-seat-suspense and a close eye on the history books.

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