A serviceable if straightforwardly plotted historical thriller, director Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise as a German officer who joins a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, will play decently with those who have helped make speculative and non-fiction World War II tales a viable small screen cottage industry. Rooted in actual events, the film more or less compensates for a lack of verve and action with solid production design and crisp, respectable performances from its ensemble cast, which includes Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Terrence Stamp.

Set mostly in July, 1944, the story focuses on Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a German officer who has become appalled by Hitler's atrocities and the outrages committed by his Nazi SS. Joining up with a band of resistance plotters consisting of both senior officers and other statesmen-in-waiting, von Stauffenberg helps refine a plan to kill Hitler with explosives, and use the momentary period of resulting confusion to take over Berlin, and thus the government. The conspirators arm themselves with Hitler's own code-named emergency plan to stabilize the nation in the event of his attack or demise, hoping to quickly mobilize the reserve army and turn them against the brutal SS elite.

Apart from an opening air attack sequence, Valkyrie is fundamentally a film about back-room plotting, not big-stroke action. There are a few striking visual markers — uncradled phones and slamming typewriter keys — that hint at kinetic, building tension, but Singer also misses key opportunities to inject a little energy and visual flash into the story, as exemplified by a clumsily staged arrest sequence late in the film. Valkyrie at times feels emotionally constrained, too invested in knit-brow speechifying.

That said, there's a polished, professional sheen to the film. Greys dominate cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel's palette, highlighting the despair the conspirators feel. John Ottman's score pushes all the right buttons, and since he's also the movie's editor the match of image and music seems to especially work well in concert. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (MGM, PG-13, 120 minutes)


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