A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Never, ever try to assassinate a political leader!

In action, Animation, Documentary on July 2, 2009 at 3:37 am

Today, unintentionally turned into “war movie daY”, with two – newer – releases from the bygone era of 2008. One is a big-budget, star studded suspense thriller about an event that we already kind of know how it ends; the other is a docu-drama about a war that very few people (in America) probably know that much about, and it happens to also be animated. I do have to admit that I have a predilection towards war movies and therefore these two were pretty high on my “to watch” list, but I never managed to see either in the theater.

Going bigger first, we’ve got the Bryan Singer directed, Christopher McQuarrie written movie about a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler by commanders in his own government and military. The two big draws to this movie (one good and one…questionable) was it was the reteaming of the writer/director team that brought us THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and I have to say that they really held up their end of the deal! The other, more questionable and in some cases controversial interesting aspect to this movie was casting Tom Cruise in the lead role as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the military commander put in charge of the assassination plot. For his part, despite being the only person in the film to not have any kind of European accent, Cruise did pretty well. It was helped by the almost uncanny natural resemblance that he has to the real life person.

The movie features an all-star – mostly British – cast, ranging from Eddie Izzard to Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh. Some of the stand-out roles were Tom Wilkinson playing the opportunist Nazi General, Friedrich Fromm; who was willing to be in the resistance only once it proved to be a success. The other standout was Thomas Kretschmann as Major Remer, who is the head of the reserve forces in Berlin, and are the soldiers that are to be used by the conspirators to take control of the city’s government. But, really just about everyone that appears on-screen, from Stauffenberg’s wife (played by Carice von Houten) to the gate Sergeant Kolbe (played by Wotan Wilke Möhring – who I just saw in the movie ANTIBODIES, which I still feel like I might need to write about), who is so close to retaining Stauffenberg after his assassination attempt.

The story itself, as I mentioned, we kind of already know the ending to – as everyone knows that Hitler survived until the end of the European conflict of WWII, so this movie ends in failure. It also kind of botches the montage at the end to give these brave people the just due that they deserved in a movie about this endeavor. But, other than that, it plays out as an excellent suspense, political thriller, with secret meetings to plan how the government will run after Hitler’s death, to who will be loyal to which side and of course the planning on how the assassination will take place. There are some great moments with Bill Nighy’s character – General Olbricht – who really comes off in this movie as a coward and in a few moments you think that he’s going to be the cause of the whole house of cards collapsing – and in one instance, he kind of is – but it’s a great performance and while I have no idea if it’s realistic in any way, it added to the drama that made me forget, “oh yeah, they’re still going to lose”. But, it is in the way that the whole thing fails that becomes the crux of the movie (again, I don’t know the true story so, I don’t know what’s real and what’s Hollywood), where it really comes down to the fact that if any one of a many number of things had gone a different way; history might be completely different.

There is of course, a number of things to discuss about Tom Cruise’s performance in this movie. I stated one, already – the actual resemblance between the actor and his real-life counterpart. The other fascinating thing is that this movie marks a decision on Cruise’s part that we’ve not seen since BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (and kind of in TROPIC THUNDER), and that is the heavy prosthetic application to scar and disfigure the actor. In the beginning of the movie, when we see Stauffenberg in North Africa, he and his soldiers are attacked and in the action Stauffenberg is shot and blown up. This leads to him, during the rest of the movie only having one hand, three fingers on the other and only one eye. The makeup effects are all great and very believable in the movie. It’s only in a couple moments in the movie that they’re made explicitly noticeable. I especially liked the seeming CGI, to make his one eye – when having a glass replica inserted in the socket, stay still when the other eye would shift. And the last thing to mention, is that would really have been nice to have Cruise at least attempt to put on an accent that matched the rest of his co-stars. I’m only asking for a slight change, maybe of a few words; like he did for his role in FAR AND AWAY, where he was supposed to be Irish, but only managed an accent mostly when he whispered. Speaking of accents, it was interesting to see – or hear, I guess – that all of the conspirators, or people probably to fall in line with the coup, all had British accents; while anyone who was clearly on the Nazi side – or likely to fall on that side of the scuffle – had German accents (and were mostly played by Germans, with David Bamber who is British, playing Adoph Hitler).

The filmmaking itself is top-notch. There were parts in the movie where I had to question whether I knew this was a Bryan Singer movie. Not that any of his movies have been bad, or really shown any kind of singular directorial style, but I was really surprised and pleased by the look and feel of the movie. The biggest drawback for me, was the score; which ran really close – if not outright being exactly the same – as John William’s work in the movie MUNICH. It became really bothersome, but I do have to say that that was the same kind of tension that worked in both movies…so, whatever.

So, overall, a great movie with a cast so large that you mostly only get to know the characters by the actor’s names – and Hitler – but well worth seeing.

The other movie to talk about is about the Lebanon War, that took place in the early 1980’s between Lebanon and Israel. I have to admit to not knowing much about this conflict, or what lead up to it; and the movie coming from an Israeli, who apparently actually was a part of this war would be more suspect if the movie didn’t come down fairly anti-war. The filmmaker behind the movie – WALTZ WITH BASHIR – is Ari Folman, and the movie is actually him talking about memories of the war with other people; based on the idea that he has a strange vision – as opposed to memory – of a certain massacre that took place, but he can’t remember what is real and what is just his mind making up details to fill in the void. The interviews, were apparently the result of ads placed of ex-soldiers who wanted to tell their stories, and then Ari would film their interviews and then it would all be rendered as animation later.

The animation for the movie is pretty good. It has similarities in things like WAKING LIFE and the movie RENAISSANCE – which is a French animated movie, done in high contrast black and white. Bashir uses color, very effectively, but the animation is very solid and off-putting, but helps with a lot of the settings. The opening sequence is especially excellent with it’s pack of running, wild dogs speeding through a city and knocking over whatever’s in their way.

The movie goes through the story, from different points of view – telling the diverging stories of soldiers who were attacked in a vineyard by little kids with RPG’s; to a soldier who escaped from his tank, only to hide behind some rocks til nightfall and then swam three miles through the Mediterranean to another shore where his fellow army was and finally to the realization of what happened during the massacre that Ari had blocked and what he saw that night. This leads to a powerful ending, and the only part of the movie that is not animated. It shows live action of a war-zone, and more importantly the cruelty and horror that we visit upon one another. It’s awful and yet sends a very strong message that this is wrong – from any point of view – and is a human problem.

The movie also has some fun, and humorous moments; including a musical number or two – that tend to not end happily – and a funny moment where we see how the Israeli army has taken over a palace in Beirut and have found the early 80’s cheesy German porn – and we get a graphic, albeit animated, showing of it. And of course there’s the titular waltz, which is more of a fantastical memory of the main character, and the Bashir of the title is represented only in posters that hang on the walls surrounding our soldiers (or on the t-shirts, rings, flags, and whatever else the Lebanese could seemingly print the face of Bachir Gemayel, who was the President-Elect at the time of the war, and was assassinated soon after taking power. And it was this assassination, that seemingly lead to the massacre that this movie is centered around.

Also Recommended:
DEFIANCE
THE PIANIST
EMPIRE OF THE SUN
PERSEPOLIS (which I’ve already discussed, previously)
MUNICH

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