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Valkyrie (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Sometimes I hear things that just boggle my mind. This time itís the number of people who state that they have never heard of the attempt on Hitlerís life by Wermacht Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg on June 20, 1944. This is one of the facts of history that Iíve known for so long it seems as if I was born with the knowledge. I canít remember when I first learned of it, but it must have been when I was relatively young. I thought everybody knew about this. It wouldnít have occurred to me that vast numbers of people are interested in this film, which is about that assassination attempt, because they didnít know about it. Even Tom Cruise, who stars in the film, has stated that he didnít know about it.

Although nobody can know exactly what went on behind the scenes when von Stauffenberg (Cruise) tried to assassinate Hitler (David Bamber), director Bryan Singer has mounted an admirable recreation of the way things might have been in this believable telling of an event, the details of which have been shrouded in mystery.

Bolstered by a terrific cast, headed by Bill Nighy as General Friedrich Olbricht, Tom Wilkinson as General Friedrich Fromm, and Terence Stamp as General Ludwig Beck, Singer tells the story as a thriller, even though we know the outcome. What was interesting to me was how close von Stauffenberg came to pulling it off, if this is to be believed. It was only due to the dilatory response of some of von Stauffenbergís co-conspirators that they didnít take over the government in the confusing hours following the blast that failed to take Hitlerís life. For a few moments it looks like it might succeed, and Singer presents the excitement as palpable. If von Stauffenbergís allies had acted with dispatch, it might have become a fait accompli by the time that Hitlerís survival became confirmed.

One note of interest is that the execution scene of von Stauffenberg and his closest allies was shot in the place where they actually occurred. Cruise and the filmmakers have said that shooting the scene was quite emotional and that the entire cast and crew showed respect for those who died there by saying a short prayer before and filming the scene with dispatch.

I enjoyed the film, but I thought that Cruise didnít ring true as the doomed von Stauffenberg, who was a legitimate war hero, having lost an eye, his right hand and two fingers of his left hand fighting in North Africa. Other than that, the film is interesting and well done, especially if you are among the apparent multitudes who donít know anything about this event.

December 23, 2008