“I’m engaged in high treason with all means available to me, can I count you in?” Yes, anything that has to do with the extermination of Hitler, sign me up. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), I wasn’t given that choice as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and others were. Stauffenberg was a German army officer and Roman Catholic aristocrat who was one of the leading members of the failed plot to kill German dictator Adolf Hitler and remove the Nazi Party from power in World War II Germany.
Valkyrie depicts this July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to use the “Operation Valkyrie” national emergency plan to take control of the country. This film is an eye-opening account of how some Germans at that time (officers and civilians) saw Hitler and his regime as a disgrace to Germany and were willing to do something about it, despite the consequences if they got caught.
"Widespread disgust toward the crimes committed by the Nazis… the murder of civilians, torture and starvation of prisoners, the mass execution of Jews. Hitler is not only the archenemy of the entire world, but the archenemy of Germany. A change must be made.” So the film begins…
Since most know how Hitler dies (Hitler shot himself in the head with a pistol on April 30, 1945, shortly before the invading Soviet Army captured his bunker in Berlin), you kind of know how this film is going to end — somehow the plot is going to fail. However, Valkyrie does manage to keep it suspenseful, starting with one of the best scenes of the film, an actual attempt to kill Hitler by Major-General Henning von Tresckow (played by Kenneth Branagh). The film quickly moves to the birth and complexity of “Operation Valkyrie" and keeps your curiosity on high alert, wondering how this particular conspiracy is going to unfold and what will happen to the men behind it.
While I was impressed with this film, I was not awed by the performance of Tom Cruise. Other than the lack of German accent, Cruise (who played Stauffenberg) seems monotone and distant. I realize this was a serious matter, but there were no moments in Cruise's characterization that led me to like him, other than his task at hand. Was this the actual personality of Stauffenberg? If it was, then Cruise succeeds in his portrayal of this man.
Valkyrie has a star-studded cast with remarkable performances by Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm), Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck), and Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel). But it is the performances by Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow, afar cry from playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht), and Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim) that I found to be riveting and who brought more authenticity to this film.
Since truth is stranger than fiction, and in most cases more powerful, you can count on me to watch, learn from, and enjoy films that are based on real-life events especially ones that focus on history. Valkyrie is such a film. It is rich and exciting, offers an amazing cast, is well-written (Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander) and directed (Bryan Singer), and the cinematography is fabulous.
Valkyrie is now out on DVD and includes a compelling 42-minute documentary. If you haven’t already seen this film, you should for its entertainment and educational value concerning an intense event in our world’s history, one of which we all wish would have ended differently — the removal of evil at its core by assassinating one of the most depraved and diabolical leaders the world has ever known.