Taking it for granted that Nazism is something no one likes, this does not mean we should condemn all Germans of the time since some tried to rise up like the infamous Operation Valkyrie conspirators featured in this 2008 movie by Bryan Singer.
The main protagonist is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a war hero crippled with one arm and without an eye after an Allied attack in Tunisia.
Like many other officers, the colonel feels disgusted with the cruelty of the Nazi regime and the inhumane conditions of concentration camp prisoners.
Each of them knows perfectly that the madness of the Third Reich dream is almost at an end at this point. Yet, the Allies must first arrive in Berlin, and in the meantime, so many more German soldiers will die in vain.
Knowing his ideas, General Ludwig Beck and Colonel Friedrich Olbricht ask him to become the face of a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler and take control of the government, trying to minimize the devastation of the Nazi defeat.
So they arrange to transfer Stauffenberg to the Army General Office, where he can better organize the plan and recruit new accomplices to carry it out.
The colonel’s basic idea is simple and brilliant: simulate a takeover of the ruthless SS guards to make the High Command have no choice but to start Valkyrie, a contingency plan to maintain order if Hitler should die.
Stauffenberg and his accomplices face numerous obstacles and challenges, such as getting the Führer himself to sign a modified copy of the plan and avoiding being caught by the Gestapo‘s ever-present spies.
As the crucial moment approaches, Operation Valkyrie turns into a race against time, critical to the future of Germany and the entire world.
The Art of Building Suspense
Although Bryan Singer is best known for the celebrated X-Men saga, his talents extend far beyond the superhero realm, as proven by the unforgettable masterpiece of the mystery crime genre, The Usual Suspects, brimming with originality and style.
However, although well known, this movie is not always associated with the director as much as the adventures of Wolverine and comrades.
From that movie, moreover, Singer brought with him the invaluable John Ottman, in charge of both soundtrack and editing, as evident from the exciting prologue set in Africa.
Unfortunately, Valkyrie received a rather lukewarm reaction from critics and audiences in 2008, a disappointment for the director already coming from the flop of such movies as Apt Pupil and Superman Returns.
Despite its flaws, even in the latter case of the superhero, I like it far better than the recent Man of Steel and Justice League.
Returning to Valkyrie, Singer masterfully handles the rising angst and tension, creating a dramatic sense of fatal inevitability since we know that, unfortunately, Hitler will not die in the assassination attempt.
The director’s and crew’s talent keeps narrative suspense working at its best, as in only a few other movies.
We can find an example in the dark and melancholy fantasy thriller The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot to stay in line with Valkyrie’s storyline.
As I said, this story finally succeeds in reevaluating all those Germans who tried to oppose the Nazis’ madness, often paying with their lives for their courage and determination to fight evil inside their own homes.
This magic begins from the first seconds, with the SS oath shouted at the top of his lungs, as the images fade to Tom Cruise‘s face, intent on writing down how much he hates Hitler in his diary.
Masterful Portrayals in Historically-driven Drama
Regarding the cast, let us start with the actor who, in my opinion, fits the role the least among the whole group: Tom Cruise.
The reason lies not in his acting but rather in needing an older and perhaps more German-looking performer to impersonate Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg.
Nevertheless, I have always had a fondness for Cruise, an actor who always gives his best and deeply commits to his work, even in less successful movies.
Next to him, we find the adept Bill Nighy, whose tired, older face makes him decidedly more believable in the role of General Friedrich Olbricht.
He is an officer full of fear towards his Nazi colleagues, yet he resists without hesitation.
In contrast to Olbricht, General Friedrich Fromm, masterfully played by Tom Wilkinson, turns out to be a man insensitive to the pain of others, whose indecision in carrying out the plan will cause everyone’s downfall.
The plot also features far less prominent but still essential figures, such as Carice van Houten portraying Nina von Stauffenberg, the protagonist’s wife.
She enchants with her delicate and refined beauty, becoming an adequate German mother and woman grappling with a tragic and unbearable historical moment.
As General Ludwig Beck, Terence Stamp faces an even more daunting task, as his character links the intellectual elite to the rebels in treason, although at times, the goals of the two groups seem so profoundly different.
Finally, the versatile director and actor Kenneth Branagh appears in the guise of General Henning von Tresckow; basically, the man Stauffenberg replaces in command of the assassination attempt, once again demonstrating his perfection in playing complex roles.
Bryan Singer leads this chorus of international talent with the dramatic perfection of his direction, telling a story within History worth remembering as much as possible.