by HELEN GEIB
Valkyrie is the story of the last of more than a dozen attempts by Germans to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
In 1944, following the Allied offensive at Normandy, a group of high-ranking German Army and Air Force officers conspired to kill Hitler by setting off a bomb at a staff meeting at the Wolf’s Lair, the Fuhrer’s remote military command headquarters. Although the bomb was successfully detonated during the meeting, no-one was killed and Hitler himself escaped virtually unscathed. History might have been changed if the meeting had not been moved outside, to escape the stifling heat of the day, from its usual location inside a concrete bunker that would have contained the force of the blast.
I went to Valkyrie because I was interested in the dramatized history lesson and the film is well worth seeing on that score; it tells a fascinating true story. Where the film exceeded my expectations was the suspense generated by the narrative and the caliber of the acting by the ensemble cast.
The seeming familiarity of the story is deceptive. Hitler’s death was only one, albeit critical, element of the conspirators’ plan to execute a coup that would topple the Fuhrer, his chief lieutenants, and the entire SS command structure and replace them with leaders from an opposition faction within the political and military establishment. The suspense is not in whether the plot will succeed; the audience knows going in that it will fail and the war will continue. The suspense is in discovering why the plot failed and just how close it came to success.
While Valkyrie offers a defense of the Germany people (a principal conspirator declares that they must do this so the world will know not everyone was like Hitler), it is not a simplistic defense. The film paints a picture of conspirators of diverse motives and personalities. One feels intense revulsion against the atrocities and philosophical underpinnings of the Third Reich. Another is a gross opportunist who trades a blind eye for the promise of a higher position in the new government. Others oppose Hitler not because he started the war, but because he is losing it. Principle, pragmatism, self-interest, and fear all played a part in creating the conspiracy.
Tom Cruise gives a solid lead performance as the officer who carried the bomb and coordinated the coup attempt. The uniformly impressive supporting cast is headed by Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson; even the actors with only a few minutes of screen time make a strong impression. The film is very well directed by Bryan Singer from a good script by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander