Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
Stars: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten
A tense, taut film about a group of German conspirators who attempt to murder ‘Der Führer’ on the 20th July, 1944. That’s the setting of Bryan Singers Valkyrie, a film that features an excellent cast and by Hollywoods standards, a reasonably accurate depiction of the plot itself.
It follows Claus von Stauffenberg, a German colonel and aristocrat who, along with other conspirators, came the closest during WWII to successfully assassinating Adolf Hitler at his notorious Wolf Lair in East Prussia.
I’ll get the negative out the way early. I was slightly disappointed at it’s tendency to shy away from bringing attention to the intricacies of Von Stauffenberg and the others motivations, not to mention chequered backgrounds . It felt like a deliberate attempt to create a distinct black and white, good versus evil story. This is perfectly understandable, especially when marketing it to mainstream, non-war buff, audiences, but it was an annoyance nonetheless. I feel like a large part of this may have been down to Cruise’s inability to play anything other than a heroic character.
For instance, von Stauffenberg, the lead conspirator, was an active solider, an aristocratic and, despite not officially joining the party, a staunch nationalist who happily championed Hitler in the early stages of his chancellery and indeed of the war. A devout catholic however, he soon became disillusioned with the Nazi regime when evidence of their cruelty became apparent, hence the decision to try and topple them. He was no second coming of Gandhi though and I feel a smidgen of context like this on the backgrounds of these men would’ve added so much more to the film and their development.
It’s a predominantly English spoken film, which usually grinds on me. A German dominated cast with subtitles would’ve been preferential, but I’ll give them a bye on that, especially with the cast they assembled and the fact it opened in German before switching.
The plot is pretty self explanatory really. It opens with von Stauffenberg serving in North Africa, before his jeep takes fire from an enemy plane, leaving him minus a hand and an eye, and with a new found desire to topple his leader. The rest of the film pretty much follows his attempts to recruit co-conspirators to his cause, lay the groundwork for the regime coup, including a tense scene with Hitler signing a document (didn’t happen in real life, but hey, artistic license), with it all culminating on the fateful date of July 20th. The final half hour or so focuses on the aftermath and the growing realisation of their failure.
Tom Cruise isn’t known for playing these type of characters, usually playing it safe and plumping for action roles instead, but I have to say the resemblance was uncanny and he did a pretty decent job for the most part. Bill Nighy was excellent as Freidrich Olbricht, the man who’s dithering played a large part in the failure of the coup. Terence Stamp as Ludwig Beck and David Schofield as von Witzleben were equally impressive, whilst Kenneth Branagh was decent enough without ever really imposing himself on any of the scenes or film. Tom Wilkinson’s Friedrich Fromm was a treacherous git and annoying, so credit for that, unless he’s equally annoying in real life, in which case I reserve the right to withdraw.
One real strong point in Valkyrie is the visuals, costume design and set design. They managed to perfectly capture the feel of 1940s Berlin. I’m aware of issues they had filming on location at some of the historical sights in the German capital, but thankfully they were eventually given permission and it’s a nice touch. The Wolf’s Lair scenes were very cool and gave an insight into a notoriously secretive location.
In the end, I enjoyed Valkyrie. It was a very well cast film and an enjoyable watch. It had moments of real tension and the final half hour is an excruciating watch. You find yourself willing them to succeed despite knowing they ultimately fail. There is some issues in there for sure. Most notably the 2D characters on the conspirators side, who could’ve been developed better and that were often made out to be heroic angels fighting for world peace when the reality was decidedly more complex.
Still, I’d recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in WWII.