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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » March 18, 2009
Film review
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Valkyrie
March 18, 2009 By Witold Żygulski   
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Valkyrie attracted controversy, particularly in Germany, even before the cameras started rolling. At issue was whether Hollywood hotshot Tom Cruise was up to playing Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who headed a 1944 plot to kill Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler.

Cruise is one of the best known proponents for the Church of Scientology, a contentious organization in modern Germany, where Von Stauffenberg-who remained largely unknown after the war-has gradually attained national hero status. Von Stauffenberg is held up as evidence that not all Germans were mesmerized by Hitler's evil spell during the 1930s and '40s.

The attacks on Cruise and his production continued unabated while shooting was in progress but died off once the movie opened. And that's hardly surprising. Valkyrie has done a good job of remaining true to history while observing the imperatives of the action movie genre.

Director Brian Singer, who was responsible for The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and X-Men, working with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who took home an Oscar for The Usual Suspects (1995), have created a gripping spectacle, even though the outcome is a well-known historical fact.

The conspirators took their lead from Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh-Hamlet, Frankenstein), a Prussian nobleman who had tried to kill Hitler several times previously and who was sent out to the eastern front. The plan was to assassinate Hitler, remove his closest associates from power, and take control of Berlin with the Reserve Army under the command of Gen. Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson-Michael Clayton, In the Bedroom). Also involved were Gen. Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy-The Constant Gardener, Love Actually), Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp-The Limey, Get Smart), and Dr. Carl Goerdeler (Kevin McNally-Pirates of the Caribbean series, Johnny English), who would have been made Chancellor had the plan succeeded. Von Stauffenberg took center stage by planting the bomb July 20, 1944 in a bunker complex known as the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia (now Gierłoż near Kętrzyn, northeastern Poland)-Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters. This time the bomb detonated, unlike Tresckow's effort, but Hitler somehow survived the blast.

Fromm refused to move until given proof of Hitler's death and, after a dozen or so chaotic hours, Maj. Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretchmann-The Pianist, Downfall), who commanded the Reserve Army garrison in Berlin, arrested the plotters, most of whom were summarily executed.

The most interesting part of Valkyrie is watching how Von Stauffenberg's bomb blows the entire chain of command to smithereens. Nobody knows whether Hitler is dead or alive, nobody knows who is supposed to be the leader and who the traitor, and nobody knows whose orders to follow. Remer encapsulates this beautifully when he responds to "You think it's a coup?" with "Of that I'm certain. I just don't know which side we're on."

Valkyrie benefits from good cast, as well as a good script. Despite fears over Cruise taking the role of Von Stauffenberg, he manages not to annoy. His character comes across as being quite likable, despite there being little explanation of his change of heart from the declared Nazi the historical sources show he once was to a man prepared to risk all to bring down the regime.
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