We all know how it ends, and that foreknowledge dooms Brian Singer's hotly anticipated and much troubled account of the attempt on Adolf Hitler's life by his own officers in July 1944.
It's always good to see Hitler threatened or Nazis getting what's coming to them - just ask Indiana Jones - but Tom Cruise, strident, glaring and positively burbling over with blood and honor and love of Germany's perverted promise, makes for a problematic closet hero. His Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, one of a handful of officers who together plan a suitcase-bomb attack to be carried out at the Wolf's Lair retreat, is fitfully dour. There's more honest suspense in waiting for him to crack a smile (he doesn't, or at least not the famous Cruise version) during all the scheming than there is in anything having to do with the actual assassination attempt.
Director Singer, who helmed the far more perverse (and infinitely more entertaining) Apt Pupil back in 1998, pays scrupulous attention to period detail and the mechanics of desperation. His cabal, among them Bill Nighy as the terminally indecisive Gen. Friedrich Olbricht and the great Terence Stamp as governmental overseer Ludwig Beck, gives the accounting some seriously weighty gravitas, but as multiple clocks tick down and the tricky plan to mobilize Berlin's reserve army against the SS begins to fray, Valkyrie topples beneath the weight of memory, and history. Following Hitchcock's "bomb under the desk" dictum to the bitter end just doesn't work out to anyone's satisfaction here.
Like the ditty from the same era popularized by Spike Jones, both the film and the explosives do little but fizzle in "Der Fuehrer's Face."