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December 31, 2008 > Movie Review: Valkyrie - Gripping and Meticulous all the way

Movie Review: Valkyrie - Gripping and Meticulous all the way

By Joe Samagond

Valkyrie (2008) is a gripping and interesting movie based on a true story during a climactic time in world history - an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler and bring an end to World War II.

It is essentially the story of a proud German Colonel - Claus von Stauffenberg. He represents the silent Germany which does not support Hitler and grew increasingly convinced that he was taking Germany and the world down the path of destruction. Stauffenberg returns from the Third Reich's failed African campaign losing an eye and part of an arm but furious at the Fuhrer's barbaric regime. "I serve my country," he says, "but this is not my country." And events unfold down an irreversible path.

Stauffenberg, played admirably by Tom Cruise, is convinced that Hitler must be stopped. He is seen trying different options before realizing that he must take action himself. Awareness about this plot is fairly common today in the press but in sketchy ways. What was most interesting for me were the nitty-gritty details behind the plot. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler's own emergency plan - known as Operation Valkyrie - these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government from the inside with the hated SS taking the fall. This plot was the last of 15 inside assassination plots against the German despot - all of which unfortunately failed.

The movie is focused on the main story with minimal side-plots. It covers the time frame up to the ignition of the explosive device in the war strategy room at "Wolf's Lair" (Hitler's headquarters at Gierloz, Poland). It also covers the rest of that fateful day - July 20, 1944 when the resistance forces thought Hitler was indeed assassinated and many elements of the "coup" plan were falling into place. You can feel yourself amidst this small, disorganized but passionate group trying to regain their country. It is insightful to watch how every German involved has to carefully weigh his choices and decide which side will "win." They want to do the right thing but there is a sense that they will do so only if Hitler's death is guaranteed. The fear that a living Hitler was able to impose on his people is remarkable to ponder. Towards the end, a few unexpected events transpired (not all of which are clearly explained in this movie) that allowed Hitler to survive. The plot rapidly unravels and all members of this brave band are sentenced and shot to death.

The film is smooth, compelling and suspenseful. The direction by Bryan Singer is taut. Cruise delivers a superb low-key performance ably supported by a great cast that includes politicians (Kevin McNally as would-be Chancellor Carl Goerdeler), ex-generals (Terence Stamp as Ludwig Beck), and lower-ranking officers (Kenneth Branagh). Bill Nighy as General Friedrich Olbricht comes across as a fussy bureaucrat who joins the resistance bravely but drags his feet at crucial times one of which the movie blames for the coup's failure.

"Valkyrie" is at its most convincing during the climactic scenes that suggest how close these men came to pulling it off. One's heart hurts at what could have been avoided. Yes, the allies overcame Germany a few months afterwards, but had Stauffenberg succeeded, the world would have been saved nine months of destruction and millions of deaths. For a few heady hours, Berlin was in the hands of a few brave, patriotic Germans until events conspired against them.

Rated: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
Runtime: 2 hours

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