In 1943, while recovering from injuries suffered in combat, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) joins forces with the long-existing civilian anti-Hitler conspiracy, a group of men hidden inside the highest reaches of power, including Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) and Dr Carl Goerdler (Kevin McNally). Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler's own emergency plan to stabilize the government in the event of his demise - Operation Valkyrie - and turn that plan on its head to remove those in power and cripple Hitler's regime, these men, along with General Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Major General Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) and General Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard), plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government. A plastics explosive is hidden in his briefcase as he enters a military briefing on July 20, 1944, attended by several officers, including Hitler.
Review by Louise Keller:
You cannot understand National Socialism if you don't understand Wagner, says David Bamber's Adolf Hitler when asked to put his signature on the revised Valkyrie plan. Named after Wagner's opera Die Walküre, Valkyrie was the code name given to the emergency operation to be put into effect lest the Führer is killed. The man, who delivers the document and heads the audacious scheme to assassinate Hitler, is Tom Cruise's patriotic Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, eager to leave more for his children than shame.
On all counts, this is an extraordinary story and the film, although it begins too earnestly and filled with its own importance, develops into a mostly riveting one, especially in its final hour. For me, perhaps the most important decision that director Bryan Singer has made, is in the way he has elected to portray the German characters and language. Instead of the English-speaking actors delivering their dialogue with accents, the setting is clearly established as being authentically German, before the actors speak their lines in their native English tongues. In the case of Cruise, who is excellent in the leading role as the brave, loyal and devoted family man, we first meet him in Tunisia, where he is maimed in an air assault in which he loses an eye. In voice over and in impressive German, we hear him reading the notes he writes in his journal. Even his American accent is used to advantage, making him stand out among the mostly English cast. Superb production design and authentic locations such as Hitler's Berghof private residence contribute greatly to our experience.
A top cast has been assembled to portray the men who opted out of Hitler's inner circle and who commit treason to 'show the world not all of us were like him'. There is in-fighting and indecision among the men, but the tension is rife when von Stauffenberg, as newly appointed Chief of Staff, places his briefcase, containing a bomb under the conference table at Wolf's Lair during a briefing. But as Terence Stamp's General Beck says 'Nothing ever goes according to plan.' And it doesn't. The confusion when conflicting reports about whether or not Hitler is dead, is extremely well executed, as the film heads into its final satisfying reel.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bryan Singer is a talented filmmaker (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, X2, Superman Returns, etc) and he tells a good story with oomph. And this is a damn good story, inspired by the 15th attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, by a group of officers and politicians who despised the shame with which Hitler had smeared the German army and his lousy command of the war. It's a timely reminder that not all Germans were Nazis, and that many could see the evil in Hitler's regime for what it was.
It's crafted with evident dedication and talent. Composer Newton Thomas Sigel often works with Bryan Singer and does a great job of a huge orchestral score. Another frequent Bryan Singer collaborator, John Ottman, is executive producer, composer and editor; his editing resume includes Superman Returns, The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil and X2, and here he again shows his editing chops.
But I'm baffled by the casting of a bunch of British actors to play German characters. They're all excellent actors, no question, but if you're going to make a film in Europe, why not cast the real things - like Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann, both in key support roles. Besides, in my view historically factual dramas work best if the audience is seeing strange faces on the screen, portraying real people. As it is, we have Tom Wilkinson play a German general; likewise Eddie Izzard and Bill Nighy, for goodness sake, well out of their comfort zones. Even Adolf is an Englishman, with none of the credibility that Bruno Ganz brought to the character in Downfall. And it's not just a matter of an accent; actors bring their cultural personas with them - and that's where the trouble lies; they don't fit here.
Why this matters more than usual is that this is a story whose ending is well known, so it's not a 'did they succeed' but a 'how did it happen' story, in which veracity includes the nature of the characters.
The result is a film that distracts even as it impresses, made with evident passion but without the grunt to make it really work.
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CAST: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McNally, Christian Berkel
PRODUCER: Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Gilbert Adler
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
SCRIPT: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Newton Thomas Sigel
EDITOR: John Ottman
MUSIC: John Ottman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lily Kilvert, Tom Meyer
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2009