Valkyrie opens Thursday throughout the Triangle
In Valkyrie, director Bryan Singer assumes that today's audiences will embrace the virtue of German officers who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler in the "July 20 plot" of 1944. Branded as traitors at the time, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters are memorialized today as heroes, in Germany and abroad.
Yet, while their righteousness seems obvious in retrospect, the path of how political and military leaders who swore an allegiance to their country and its Führer came to rebel against them deserves more than a passing presumption. Instead, Singer—directing his third foray into Nazi subject-matter (Apt Pupil and the X-Men prologue)—drops us squarely into the plot's planning stages, eschewing any examination of the plotters' motives, including, for example, the belief by some that, with Hitler gone, Germany could join with the Western allies to fight the Bolshevik tide sweeping in from the Soviet Union.
Already harboring doubts about Hitler, Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) loses a hand, two fingers and his left eye on the battlefields of North Africa. Afterward, he takes a series of posts in Berlin that position him closer to Hitler, the better to prepare for the assassination attempt. From there, Singer delves into the cloak-and-dagger intrigue behind the plot's planning and execution, from developing the means and opportunity to kill Hitler to ensuring the coup d'état's success during the chaotic aftermath.
Illustrating the procedural aspects of the plot is where Valkyrie shines, thanks to Singer's finely tuned pacing and the film's lavish production values. Much of the filming took place on location in Germany, and the producers even managed to get permission to shoot at Bendlerblock, a historic location crucial to the story. Even Cruise's ill-fitting American accent, the subject of much preproduction press, gets forgotten amid the actor's trademark intensity and some fine British actors—Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Kevin McNally and Tom Wilkinson—who supply their crisp, buttoned-up best in key supporting roles.
What's missing from the film, however, is sufficient motive for these stolid, conservative officers to break so radically with military tradition; such a "why" would complement Singer's glossy rendering of the plot's intricate "how." Still, Valkyrie maintains its momentum without feeling rushed, and the story remains taut despite its foregone outcome.