Valkyrie ***1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy, Thomas Kretschmann
Rating: PG-13 (violence, some language)
Running Time: 120 min
Release Date: 12/25/08

After the twin defeats at Stalingrad and El Alamein the German Army's leadership was aware that the war was unwinnable. However, a negotiated surrender would be impossible because one of the key allied conditions would be that Hitler and his immediate clique face justice. Obviously Hitler would never agree to this regardless of the consequences for Germany. So Hitler must be killed first. There had been several attempts before but all had failed.

Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) at the beginning of the story is a staff officer with the 10th Panzer Division in Tunisia. He is trying too save as many men as he can as Allied armies are closing in for the kill. After being critically wounded in a strafing attack, he is sent back to Berlin and is assigned to German Army headquarter after his release from the hospital. He soon falls in with a group of officers who have been engaged in plots against Hitler. The latest by Major-General von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), one of the original plotters, involved a bomb in package placed on Hitler’s airplane on his trip back from the Russian front that failed to explode.

In his new assignment another plotter General Olbricht (Bill Nighy) is von Stauffenberg’s superior. As he becomes active in the group he soon finds a major flaw in the plotters plans. What is to happen after Hitler is killed? Will the Nazi loyalists just kill the plotters and place Himmler in charger? His answer is a plan that had been created to by the Nazis to retain power if Allied bombing campaigns happen to create chaos amongst the German population. The code name for this plan was Valkyrie and hence the title of the film. Valkyrie would mobilize the reserve army to take control of Berlin and other major cities in Germany. Col. von Stauffenberg realizes that with some changes it could be used to arrest the Nazi hierarchy in the aftermath of Hitler’s death.

To implement the plan the plotters need to get Hitler’s signature on a revised version that would be tailored to the requirements of a coup. They also need to get the support of Gen. Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), the commander of the reserve army, who straddles the fence by allowing the plot to proceed while keeping his hands clean in the event that it fails. Finally, Col. Von Stauffenberg needs to have the opportunity to plant the bomb next to Hitler. The suspense element of the film centers on the plotters efforts to accomplish all of this given all that could go wrong.

Of course the plot goes wrong as Hitler survives the blast. But, we know that. This story does serve as a testament to the Germans who put up some resistant to the Nazi regime and paid for it with their lives when it failed. One wonders what would have happened if the plot had succeeded in removing Hitler. Could the plotters have established control and successfully deposed the SS and other Nazi organizations? Could they have negotiated a conclusion of the war with the Allies? Would it have driven a wedge between the U.S. and the Russians? It certainly could have still spared many lives.

For all of the negative publicity about the film, I find little to fault. Valkyrie is a well crafted historical movie with perhaps less the typical divergences from fact. Tom Cruise puts in a credible performance as Col. von Stauffenberg. There is a strong supporting cast including Terrance Stamp as Col.-General Beck one of the senior plotters. My thought is that the negative reviews are mostly due to some controversies concerning the star rather than the specifics of movie itself.


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