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Posted on Dec 12, 2008 in Books and Movies

Valkyrie – Movie Review

By Brian King

Tom Cruise has failed to kill Hitler. Only in American cinema would this ever be deemed a good thing.

Valkyrie Movie PosterWith the kind of star power attached to Valkyrie, it would not have been surprising to see Tom Cruise swept up in an epic love story which only reluctantly addressed the July 20, 1944, plot to kill Adolph Hitler. Would anyone have been shocked to see the film take liberties with the actual story, using the man from Mission Impossible to literally do the impossible and succeed in his daring plot to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime? Hard experience has taught us that Hollywood is unparalleled in its ability to bungle even the most compelling -and true- stories. But Valkyrie is different.

Centered around a cabal of conspirators dedicated to removing Hitler and his regime and restoring dignity and honor to the German nation, the 75 million dollar Valkyrie examines how far these men and women went in conducting a tantalizingly close assassination attempt. Directed by Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, X-Men) and starring Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible, War of the Worlds, A Few Good Men), the film re-introduces the world to one of the unsung heroes from the very heart of Nazi Germany – Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Colonel Stauffenberg was one of the few men who stood up to Hitler and attempted to save the lives of millions by killing just one. Had he succeeded, the entire history of the world might be very different …

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Viewers expecting constant action, flashy special effects, or lengthy dialogue will be disappointed. This film moves slowly and deliberately through most of its runtime and is remarkably understated given its huge budget. Most of the film is spent carefully assembling pieces of a puzzle. The men and women of the conspiracy came from a wide range of government and military positions, each providing a key piece of the machinery necessary both to kill Hitler and create a more benevolent form of government once he was terminated. As the film illustrates, killing Hitler in and of itself was not enough. There were safeguards in place to continue his policies even if he was killed, and failure to address those safeguards could have resulted in a leadership even MORE destructive than Hitler’s.

The film does a wonderful job of steering clear of contrived political speeches by the conspirators. Hitler is an assumed evil in the movie and the audience isn’t insulted with lectures explaining why. Many of the plotters come into the story clearly troubled by the direction Hitler has taken their nation and acceptance into this exclusive club is indication enough they are willing to die to remove him and all that he stands for. In one powerful scene, all the conspirators arrive in the same office holding up their "tokens" to Stauffenberg indicating their commitment to what was about to happen. It was a much more dramatic statement about the nature of good versus evil than any long-winded speech.

The film opens with German dialogue and quickly segues into non-accented English for all the characters throughout the movie. While some may find this to be too much of a concession to historical accuracy, it is probably fair to say the film becomes much more accessible. It is certainly more enjoyable to watch without subtitles or fake accents. The acting is even throughout, and the ever-expanding repertoire of Germanic character names is counter-balanced by having many recognizable actors. Kenneth Branagh is especially convincing in his own attempt to kill Hitler as is Tom Wilkinson in his role as the general in charge of the German Reserve Army who could have gone either way when the chips started falling. The man playing Adolph Hitler (David Bamber) gives the dictator an indescribable air of malignancy coupled with fragility that is very well done for the brief periods he is on screen.

Tom Cruise also does a decent job portraying Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg with the material he was given.  With his eye patch and CGI-removed hand and fingers Cruise was unable to give his character the type of animation and passion you find in his previous roles. Additionally, his back story is not well developed and all we really know about him is that he was injured in North Africa and wants to kill Hitler.  These things taken together make it difficult to connect with Stauffenberg and fully appreciate his motivations. The closest we come to seeing behind the eye patch is during his short interaction with his wife and family and a brief scene where his co-conspirator is shot in front of him.  

From the eye of a historian the film gives a good snapshot into the lives and fates of those who attempted to take out Adolph Hitler. The writers stayed on mission, delivering a film that doesn’t stray into superfluous love stories or non-historical happy endings.  Seeing the plot develop on the big screen and seeing how many pieces had to fall into place to make it a success gives the viewer an appreciation for the monumental scale of the plan. This alone makes the film worth seeing. However, be warned it is dark in tone and extremely serious end to end. With almost no levity to break up the tension, this may be a tough sell in a holiday season for those seeking something with a bit more cheer.

Still, Valkyrie proves that even in the darkest of times there are good men willing to risk everything to ensure the light will return.  Being reminded of the sacrifice of Colonel von Stauffenberg and his friends during our own troubled times may inspire other subjugated peoples to dare to hope. Perhaps that is the true spirit of the holidays after all.

To read more about the historic Colonel von Stauffenberg and the effect his actions had on his family, see Claus von Stauffenberg – The Man Who Tried to Kill Hitler.

23 Comments

  1. So, they’re not even gonna bother having German accents huh? Unreal just shows how film making has slipped into the toliet these days. No one makes good movies anymore, nothing but trash! I wouldn’t go see Tom Cruise if he had two thousand diffferent accents though, what a nut case, typical of knuckle-dragging liberals though. Too bad to it’s a story that really needs telling.It’s okay hey in case you people have forgotten you can aleays open a history book and read about it……lol That’s how I knew about it. You see it’s real simple you can go to the library and check out a book, or go to a book store and buy it. Then read it, oh my what a concept!!!!!!!

  2. Your loss Kerry – along with the other legions of Cruise haters you are going to miss a great film – your loss I guess. I think those that can’t get by the accents issue seem more interested in seeing an impressionist than an actor. I have almost 100 books on the bomb plot and am looking forward to this film with major anticipation. I’m not a big Cruise fan but he’s a competent thespian. I don’t care if he jumps on my couch or worships Nanook the Moose in his spare time. The rest of the dream cast will be well worth seeing too. So enjoy your book!

  3. Reading some posts on web sites concerning this film, it’s a white hat/black hat “I like Fords, you like Chevys” thing. I mean you either love it or hate it *even* before you’ve seen it! Yeah, some of us read books….we also like to view a few flicks once in a while.

  4. I am looking forward to seeing this film, especially after this review–thank you for providing it! I, too, am disappointed about the lack of accents/subtitles, but oh well. It is still Hollywood, and I am just glad that they seem to have done a fairly decent job at it this time. I must say that I don’t like Cruise at all; but I agree with Chuck Z, some of us love to read books but like to see a movie now and then.

    Regards,
    Alex
    CC

  5. Even though I am not a Cruise fan, I am going to see this movie. The messenger may be a bit odd, but the message is what is important. And besides that, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is a real hero even if his mission was not successful. There are a LOT of people that think ALLLLL Germans were Nazis. Maybe this movie will shed some light on the situation. Not EVERYONE is a member of ACG, ya know.

  6. It’s a shame that there is nowhere to flag offensive comments such as that from the “911 truther” jerk above.

    —————————————————

    Personally, I couldn’t care less what Cruise does in his spare time, he’s generally a pretty good actor, even back to his “Risky Business” days.

    I can see why the movie critics don’t like this film. It’s historically accurate, and seems to be built like a puzzle. So, no sappy endings, and people have to think about what’s going on to understand it. Why would any 21st century American want to see it? Saw the History Channel treatment of Valkyrie, which whets my appetite even more so!

  7. I think most historical movies made in Hollywood have a populist bent to them and that’s okay, as long as the “essence and spirit” of the events are accurate. Tom Cruise is a very capable actor and the clips I’ve seen have convinced me this is a movie worth seeing on the big screen. To not see a movie because of him seems to be missing an important point.

    You do lose faith when movies like Flyboys are made but from the reviews (uniformly positive by the way) it’s clear that forcing actors to use accents and speak in German wouldn’t only detract from the importance of the events. I hope most readers are grown-up enough to understand that at the end of the day a Hollywood movie is supposed to be entertainment and this movie seems to concentrate on the events rather than the window dressing. I might be wrong but I’m not going to miss this movie because of some nitpicky problem I might have with a peripheral aspect.

  8. I recently had the pleasure in reading the new edition of WWII magizine about Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and was very impressed that he actually tried to kill Hitler and what happened to his family after the incident not to mention him.

    But I agree with Alexander’s comment that all German’s were not Nazi’s. In fact this was far from the truth. My grandfather fought the Germans from point blank range and had nothing but good to say about them. He felt that they were rightfully fighting for their country more than for the man and his ideals.

  9. It is difficult to digest all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over trivia like accents and the personal lives of actors. I too have read a great deal about the the Third Reich and with some attention to Valkyrie. When Hollywood chooses to address a serious historical development, regardless of the film’s quality, if it is somewhat accurate I believe a wider net is being cast…a good thing. I have not seen the film yet, but I believe a great many people who do will become aware of a poignant episode in human history than might have otherwise been the case.

  10. One mayor problem with the film: It just blends out that Stauffenberg was a great admirer of Hitler in the beginning of WW II – letters to his wife during the polish campaign clearly show his arrogance and despise of jewish and polish people! So he is not just a “hero” who tried to kill Hitler, his personality is much more complex than displayed and his motives not so philantrophic.

    No black and white in the real historic events, but a lot of grey…

    But as a German I like the idea of bringing this episode of history to a wider audience through a Hollywood production.

  11. It escapes me why anyone would want the actors to use German accents speaking English, which in a historical piece, would be vastly more bogus than just plain English for the content, or German with English subtitles for the accuracy. Also consider that much of the movie has to be a likely creation cut from the known history, and probably there is very little actual historically preserved dialogue. “German” accent English may have been de-rigeur in the war movies from the sixties, and for Hogan’s Heroes, but thankfully we were spared in Valkyrie

  12. I saw this movie last night mainly because the publicity in the US has been so negative against Tom Cruise and the movie that I just wanted to give it a chance. I’m glad I went. This is a really rich and authentic movie that is superbly directed, has a taut screen play, a cast of great actors, and a tense “risk it all” story that happens to be true. Today, I’ve been reading up on von Stauffenberg. Heroes are generally not perfect people but people who seize an opportunity and do the right thing despite the cost. Clearly von Stauffenberg’s decision grew out of his religious faith as well as his understanding that Hitler was destroying Germany. I think the movie makes this point sufficiently. The movie is not about making the decision. It is about carrying out the decision and it does a great job of showing the von Stauffenberg knew the depth and risk of his commitment to his actions. I also think Tom Cruise was terrific. Without a star of his caliber, this would have been a good but small movie. A lot more people will see it because of Tom. It is worth seeing – possibly more than once.

  13. Leonardo DiCaprio has horrible accents, but he’s a marquee actor. So is Tom Cruise. I was a little disappointed with the lack of even a British accent from Cruise, but seriously..come on.

    The English reminds egocentric Americans who the good guys were. While I personally would have preferred everyone speaking German and having subtitles, the American/British English made it obvious as far as who the good guys were. The bad guys had noticeably thick, German accents. Just to make it simple.

    Anyways, as far as the movie itself…I greatly appreciate it for its historical content. I’m currently Wikipedia’ing it all right now (not the best source, but I’m getting a general idea) because I want to learn more about the brave Germans that dared to rise against Hitler.

    I was one of the uneducated individuals that thought all Germans were Nazis…I didn’t think they were all inherently bad because I was sure some of them had good intentions, I just thought they were all brainwashed or to cowardly to do anything.

    Thanks to this movie, I know that there were good, brave Germans back then. So once I’m done with Wikipedia, I’ll actually check the real books too…cuz I’ma nerd like that.

  14. I saw the movie and thought it was very good. I thought Tom Cruise, as well as all the actors in this film, did good jobs of acting.

  15. Movies set in WWII seem to cast British actors as Germans for some reason. This may have been started by having James Mason play Rommel in “The Desert Fox” in the early 50s. I don’t recall a single German actor in that film. Limeys played every German role of consequence in that movie. (They also played all the British parts.) That movie covered some of the same ground as Valkyrie does, given Rommel’s participation in the plot to kill Hitler, with many of the same Germans appearing both pictures.

    I think Stauffenberg’s activities in the movie Valkyrie were exaggerated to build up Cruise’s part. I doubt a German light colonel would be ordering German generals around for hours in various military headquarters in 1944 Berlin.

  16. My memory of “The Desert Fox” failed me slightly in my previous comment. There actually were a couple of American actors playing Germans in that movie. Richard Boone (Palladin in the TV show “Have Gun, Will Travel) played one of Rommel’s aides and Everett Sloan (an Orson Welles associate on stage and in the movies of the late 30s, 40s, and 50s) played the German general who persuaded Rommel to take poison rather than endanger his family by facing trial for his participation in the attempt to assassinate Hitler.

    Still, krauts didn’t play significant Germans in either “The Desert Fox” or “Valkyrie.”

  17. A plot to overthrow a Nazi leader by a group of other Nazis because the master plan of German domination was going awry is problematic if the plotters are seen and portrayed as unconditional heroes – I am afraid we have some misguided sentiments here, like when Tom Cruise just could not be shot as he rode directly into fire as the horribly historically inaccurate Last Samurai. A group of competent anti-Semitic German generals are harly more reassuring than a derranged dictator with the same beliefs. There are plenty of real heroes out there, the people both in and behind this film do not exactly qualify.

  18. I just watched this movie tonight and I have to say I am disappointed. They got the general idea right but did not focus on the moral question these men faced about killing Hitler. Von Stauffenberg was Catholic and it was not until after the failure at Stalingrad he decided it was necessary. It also was not until reports from the concectration camps started leaking out that the rest decided it was necessary. In the movie he just decided to kill Hitler, no question or second guess. Lots of little things also bothered me, like when they actually put Valkyrie into effect. I dont think it was quite as wide scale as they made it in the movie. I think it was figured out pretty quickly and delt with decisevely. The main thing is, I also didnt think VonStauffenberg came up with the plot, I thought it was someone else. And where did the rewriting of the actual plan of Valkyrie come from?? I dont recall reading that anywhere. Anyways I will stop now, if you dont know anything about the movie you will enjoy it, but if you know something about the actual plot I think you will be disappointed.

  19. Unfortunately for Tom it will take more than CGI to sort out one ‘inaccuracy’: the real Von Staufenberg was about 6’6″ tall!

  20. The comment by Alex seems closer to the truth. Perhaps by 1944 Von Staffenberg was acting from a sense of duty born of aristocratic sensibilities, dismay and a real pragmatism. Also, many of the Officer Corps were deeply suspicious of Hitler, but tacitly supported him because as gentlemen in the formal sense, their code of conduct was to support their leader, and practically speaking, he was responsible for the revival of the Armed Forces and subsequently, their careers. Plots against Hitler started before he became Chanceller in 1933 and continued throughout his rule. The aristocrats and their allies were just one group, albeit a very important one(i.e. able to change governmental rule if successful, rather than a lone assassin). However, it is interesting to speculate that if Hitler had won in Russia, and Von Staffenberg knew what was going on in the camps, would he still have made the attempt?

  21. film close to truth. read “rise and fall of the third riech” by Sherie, i think. the plot was discussed in some detail there. Film was a simplified version but probably caught the core.

    russ

  22. Anyone but Tom Cruise, please! Movies today (such as Pearl Harbor) are trash and do not accurately portray historical events. If Stauffenberg’s background was “a little vague”, what then are we to make of his attempt to kill the killer? What made him so disenchanted with the man he had taken an oath to obey no mattery what? I am sure those who enjoyed this movie have their reasons but because Cruise is in it alone convinces me this flick is the pits.

  23. i think a lot of movie goers nowadays are missing the point. people are getting too critical of the mundane details of a movie such as the actors, actresses, sets, etc, that they are totally out of it. as with any creative product, whether it be a movie, a song or wht have you, its main objective is to move the audiences emotions according to the flow of the story. my watching valkyrie, for instance, put so much emotion in me that i cannot even imagine the real feelings each character felt at that particular point in history from the conception of the plan, the complexities of it, the doubt and distrust with each co-conspirator, the sudden rush of adrenaline when the plan was put to action, the wait and inaction and ultimately, the resulting failure and death by different means of each one of them. now try adapting in the present what they did at that time to what i percieve as numerous attempts in different countries today to seize power. and remain as courageous as you think you can in the face of the opposition. in the end, i was totally terrified.

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