Film Reviews

VALKYRIE

By • Dec 24th, 2008 •

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A tension-packed thriller with a superb cast.

Due to Tom Cruise’s affiliation with the Church of Scientology, the German Defense Ministry prohibited shooting VALKYRIE at German military sites. This decision was based on Germany’s longstanding contention that Scientology is not a religion but an exploitative, profit-based business concern.

I don’t understand this nonsense.

VALKYRIE offers the world another view of Germans during World War ll. Not all of them were supporting the Reich’s plan to eliminate European Jews. Some of them eventually began to understand that Hitler was a monster. In fact, as VALKYRIE shows, many members of Adolf Hitler’s elite SS made heroic attempts to assassinate him at great peril to their careers, families and, if they failed, certain death.

National Geographic Channel recently aired “42 Ways to Kill Hitler”. In the case of VALKYRIE, the architects of this assassination attempt were the men who were closest to Hitler, headed by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), Gen. Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) and Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp).

It is 1944 and Germany is losing the war. The Allied invasion is on the way and, from my extensive reading on the subject, Hitler’s “Final Solution” for the Jews of Europe was more important to him than concentrating on winning the war. Hitler’s obsession with killing Jews caused chaos in his inner circle. An acceleration of mass exterminations was ordered. Men like Stauffenberg, considered a true hero, risked everything by attempting to assassinate Hitler, surrender to the Allies, and end the war.

As far as the criticism that Cruise did not use a German accent, none of the other actors did either. I didn’t hear appropriate accents in Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR. In THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS David Thewlis plays an SS officer but does not speak with a German accent. No one in HBO’s terrific mini-series “Rome” spoke with Italian accents. We only like English accents, not Russian (Sean Connery in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and Harrison Ford in “K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER tried) or ethnic accents (except BORAT).

Joining the Nazi party and the SS were essential to building a career in Germany. According to my research, Stauffenberg was never a member of the Nazi party. While serving in Tunisia, he was severely injured, losing an eye, right arm, and some fingers on his left hand. Thus, the eye patch. As a decorated war hero, he was in a perfect position to gain Hitler’s trust, and access to his inner circle. Soon his conscience and devout Catholic faith (not mentioned in the film) led him to join the German resistance movement against the Hitler regime.

With the Soviet army approaching, the German resistance hoped to remove Hitler and negotiate with the Allies. (This never happened and Germany suffered greatly under the Soviet army’s brutality.) While Hitler hunkered down on drugs in his Berlin bunker, a team of his military elite were planning an assassination. Among them were Major-Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), retired Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Gen. Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Gen. Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), and Gen. Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson).

Their plot is based on Hitler’s previous plan for allowing the reserve army to take control of Berlin and the country in case of his death or a national emergency. Stauffenberg sets the bomb but, as with all the other assassination attempts against Hitler, this one fails.

Cruise is terrific as Stauffenberg, portraying a man of rank, torn between his vow of loyalty and knowing that Hitler had to be stopped. Once committed, Stauffenberg would let nothing stand in his way of finishing the mission. And Cruise is ably assisted by the terrific supporting cast. Each superb actor expresses conflict in their decision to be part of this very dangerous plot. They all knew what failure meant. Tom Wilkinson’s Machiavellian Gen. Fromm has the most interesting connection to the narrative since he decides to play both sides.

Bryan Singer is a perfect choice as director and he makes VALKYRIE a tension-filled thriller, imbued with a sense of urgency and terror. Cruise is right when he gets out front of the VALKYRIE PR and says it’s not a war or Holocaust movie. While Hitler’s architects of the “Final Solution” were off demanding higher mass kill rates, the men shown here were the ones who planned and ran Hitler’s war and wanted him dead.

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