I'd been looking forward to seeing 'Valkyrie' for some time as I'd missed it on its cinema run so its release on Blu-ray was a welcome one. The premise behind the storyline hooked me. I'd only ever heard about it as a one line reference to the July 20th plot in history lessons at school, but the thought of having the story of an assassination attempt by German officers on the life of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War explained on screen intrigued me.
As it is a big Hollywood movie, you can expect a certain amount of poetic licence with historical facts. Before watching, I was unaware how the plot actually came about but the movie has raised my interest to such an extent that I'm now willing to spend my time finding out what really happened.
Putting that to one side, what we have is a very well made, suspenseful and compelling movie directed by Bryan Singer ('The Usual Suspects', 'Superman Returns') with a superb cast headed by Tom Cruise and ably supported by the wonderful Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp and Eddie Izzard as his fellow plotters.
After seeing his performance in 'Valkyrie', Tom Cruise now has much greater credibility as an actor in my eyes. His portrayal of Von Stauffenberg, the central character in the assassination plot, is just so believable. His character was wounded in action in South Africa and lost an eye, his right hand and three fingers from his left, so is a respected military hero in the eyes of the Third Reich, but his conscience will not allow him to stand idly by and watch the atrocities being committed by Hitler and his regime. He is one of a group of officers who share the same disgust at what is happening and they resolve to put a plan into action that will not only see the demise of their Fuhrer, but also hand over control of the German nation to them and potentially put an end to the war.
Although we may know how the story ends, this movie excels in its ability to maintain the tension as the planning takes place, right through to the implementation of the plot.
Von Stauffenberg is approached by General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), a man of power who's part of a clandestine collection of German officers who have been trying for a long time to kill Adolf Hitler without success. An attempt to plant a bomb on Hitler's plane, disguised as a bottle of Cointreau, falters when it fails to go off in mid air. The bottle must be recovered before it is opened and key members are implicated.
Its retrieval is a very tense scene that will have you holding your breath.
Olbricht tells Stauffenberg about the group's need to reorganize with people they can be sure will be able to successfully pull off the job. Stauffenberg has reached the limit of his patience with the way the German government is being run and agrees to join the conspiracy. The operation is codenamed “Valkyrie”, the emergency plan that was meant to be used in case of a revolt against the Nazi government. This initiative is rewritten by Stauffenberg so that it would allow them to seize control over the course of three hours once Hitler was killed.
As the story unfolds you are really rooting for the success of the operation. Despite careful planning, things begin to change as soon as Stauffenberg arrives for the meeting at which Hitler will be present. The location of the meeting is changed at the last minute due to the heat in the original bunker. The stress caused by the threat of possible failure due to a small deviation from the plan is visible on Stauffenberg's face.
He asks to be placed near the Fuhrer as he has hearing difficulties, so that the briefcase containing the bomb will be as close to its intended target as possible.
He's called away to answer the telephone and leaves the building before the powerful blast rips through the building. Surely no-one could have survived that!
If the 'Valkyrie' plan had automatically been put into operation, they most likely would have succeeded but the blame seems to be placed on Olbricht's hesitance by requiring confirmation of the death of Hitler before proceeding.
Stauffenberg discovers the deliberation and puts the plan into operation, but the delay allows Hitler the time to make contact with those who are waiting to see which side to join.
Even upon hearing the report of Hitler's survival, Stauffenberg in desperation tries to claim it to be erroneous - but it is too late and the plotters have to pay the ultimate price.
This is a movie that tells the story well without the need for gimmicky photography or the use of shaky cam. The performances throughout are excellent, but Bill Nighy scores a career high for his portrayal of Olbricht - no mean feat considering his more recent comedy turns in 'Love Actually' and 'The Boat that Rocked' and how difficult it is to get an audience to find you believable in a serious role thereafter.
It is also interesting to see Stand-up comedian/transvestite Eddie Izzard acquit himself admirably in the serious 'big league' acting stakes. In the main scene he has with Tom Cruise (set in a Gents toilet) you feel that you are watching two people in a desperate situation rather than a Hollywood 'A lister' and a British bit part actor.
Here, he's dealing at the top table with the big boys and he doesn't look out of place.
Bryan Singer's skill as a director is without doubt, given his success in suspending disbelief. You forget you are watching actors as you become immersed in the story.
This is the kind of film I thought that Hollywood had forgotten how to make amid the bucketfuls of popcorn movies that take up such a large percentage of screen time in an attempt to pander to the 16-24 year old demographic that is perceived to be the modern day cinema going public.
This is a movie for which I had high hopes and I wasn't disappointed, so if anyone is dithering over watching it on Blu-ray I'd say don't delay, get it today.