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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Valkyrie

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Review

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It’s almost unimaginable for Americans to root for the Germans in a World War II movie.  That’s just what happens in Valkyrie, the true story of German officers on a mission to assassinate Hitler and take control of Germany and the course of the war.  Fully aware of the dishonor brought on “Sacred Germany” by the homicidal and delusional Fuhrer, the conspirators enlist the aid of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a steely, one-eyed, one-handed Wehrmacht officer, wounded while stationed in Tunisia.

Stauffenberg has been troubled by moral and legal issues related to the Third Reich and is instantly drawn to the plan, code named Valkyrie to mobilize Berlin’s reserve army against the SS in a coup that would turn the tide of the war toward a swift surrender to the Allies.  In other words, the “good Germans” would be in charge of the country.  The time is July 1944.

But first the guy with the funny mustache and side-part must die.  Stauffenberg and company, all of various ranks, from secretaries and telecommunications personnel to generals, conspire to bomb Hitler (David Bamber) into oblivion at his Wolf’s Lair retreat.  The suspense comes from Stauffenberg’s several meetings with Hitler, his bomb-laden briefcase, and crucial timing factors.

The complex plot is broken down for the viewer to follow in all of its uncertainty, stops, starts, plan alterations and finally, execution.  Because the film is based on actual events, the unsuccessful outcome is known from the start, but that doesn’t stop the crisp pacing of the near miss, heartbreakingly close and hinging on last-minute decisions.

Stauffenberg’s cronies include General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), governmental overseer Ludwig Beck (Terrance Stamp) Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) General Erich Fellgeibel (Eddie Izzard) General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), Major Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann).  Of these, only General Fromm appears to be a hard sell, insisting on beginning and ending all meetings with a strident “Heil Hitler!”, which Stauffenberg emulates – with the arm that’s missing a hand.

There’s a tiny attempt within the taut storyline to show Stauffenberg as a family man with a dedicated wife, Nina (Carice Van Houten) and three small children, all in terrible danger if the plot fails.

Tom Cruise manages to leave his personal baggage behind to inhabit the duty-bound colonel, becoming a man with a single-minded mission.  Terrance Stamp, always a bastion of dignity (current release Yes Man aside) brings a quiet strength to his bureaucratic Beck.  Tom Wilkinson’s Fromm is a good example of Nazi rationalization and penchant for double-cross.  Eddie Izzard has the eyes for suspense, wide signals of immediacy that beam crucial information without words.  Kenneth Branagh conveys a tragic honor all alone in the woods and we believe him.  David Bamber’s nearly invalid Hitler is nevertheless as deadly as a sleeping cobra.

Director Bryan Singer (Apt Pupil) assembles an all-allied cast, allowing his British and American actors their own native speech.  No vun hass to talk like ziss.  He must have remembered Hitchcock’s famous line about the bomb under the desk, “Show it to them!” to construct his maze of intrigue, co-conspirators and dress rehearsals.  Attention is captured as surely as if the SS were behind the raid.  Singer manages to make boardroom meetings crackle with tension.

The good guys come so close to success that you don’t want the congratulations to stop and the consequences to start.  The film brings you right up to the line of “if only” but can’t let you cross it.  What happens to some of the conspirators is truly barbaric, only hinted at here.  In actuality, Hitler had their gruesome deaths filmed.

Valkyrie explores a well known plot, carried out by little-known men.  It exudes the hope that righteousness will ultimately prevail, even though surrounded by evil.  It highlights the patriotism, honor, morality, dignity and duty that at one mad point in history were tragically confused with treason instead of redemption.