The year is 1943 and Valkyrie, the second release under the revamped United Artists brand, opens with German officer Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) on assignment in Africa. He had been sent there because his opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime had become dangerously explicit and bellicose. His promotion to lieutenant-colonel of the general staff and transfer from the European lines to Africa is intended to give him some protection from pro-Nazi officers who might make trouble for him.
An attack on a transport column in Africa leaves Stauffenberg badly wounded. He loses his left eye, the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand, and his right hand above the wrist. Given director Bryan Singer's resume (which includes X-Men and Superman Returns) and the opening sequence, initial concerns that the film might be turned into an action movie are quickly dispelled. Given that the end of the movie is never in doubt, the movie never quite becomes a suspense thriller either. Yet Valkyrie still manages to deliver a thought-provoking and moving story of loyalty, betrayal, sacrifice, and doubt.
Following his recovery, Stauffenberg becomes more deeply and directly involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The resistance circle is far-ranging, and involves Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), whose failed attempt to blow up Hitler's plane is portrayed with dramatic effect. When the bomb hidden with bottles of cognac fails to explode, the package needs to be recovered before the bomb explodes or is delivered and discovered.
Tresckow serves to introduce Stauffenberg to the resistance circle, which is led by Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) and Dr. Carl Goerdeler (Kevin McNally). Beck had resigned as Chief of Army General Staff in 1938, and Goerderler had resigned as mayor of Leipzig in 1937. After their respective resignations these two men became focal points for various strands of resistance that reached throughout German political, military, religious, and social classes. Stauffenberg's own religious convictions are given some light but respectful treatment. Stauffenberg's Roman Catholic faith has been noted by many to be a significant contributing factor to his ability to resist the allure of Nazi ideology.
The film does a serviceable job making sense of the chaos that surrounded the various attempts, non-attempts, and abortive failures that led up to the final try to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944. The title of the film is taken from the name of the operation that was in place to quell any social uprising that might upset the stability of the Reich government. Operation Valkyrie was intended to mobilize the reserve army in the event of unrest or other civil emergency. The conspirators brilliantly manage to alter the details of the operation so that after Hitler's assassination the military coup might have a real chance of effective execution.