Valkyrie (2009)


  

Our Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

   

There were fifteen assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler during his attempt to take over the world, and none of them succeeded. Valkyrie is the story of the final attempt shortly before the German forces surrendered. It is both an epic and stirring story of courage and near-success and a tragic depiction of defeat.

 

Germany is under the control of their ruthless dictator and expanding its territories into the rest of Europe. Most of the high command of Hitler's army are fully behind his determination to eradicate the Jewish nation and force their neighboring nations to come under their command, but there are a sizable number of insurgents who believe the only way to restore dignity to their country is to remove him from power. Among them is Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Branagh), who hopes to assassinate Hitler in-flight through a small bomb implanted in a case of vodka. But something goes wrong and the implant refuses to detonate. Failure is not an option and thus he decides to bring the recently wounded Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) into their ranks. A man of passionate beliefs and conviction, Stauffenberg is outraged at what the Nazis have accomplished and hopes to make peace with the Allies.

 

When von Tresckow is sent to the front lines, Stauffenberg steps in to fill his formidable shoes and sets into motion a daring assassination plot that involves Valkyrie -- using the reserve military forces to take Berlin in the aftermath of Hitler's death. Even casual historians will know this plot ultimately failed, but most of them will not know why and as such, the film proves to be an intense experience as you wait and watch to see how it happened. Movies have so often focused on Germans during the period as being evil when not all of them were, so it is nice to see several recent productions focusing on the noble men and women of that nation who fought against the Gestapo. This film is fairly accurate and authentic to the period, with realistic depictions of the various men involved and some incredible details. The cast is brilliant, and contains many familiar faces from American and European productions. Tom Cruise is magnificent, as is David Bamber as the Führer.

 

It will resonate particularly well with individuals who have some knowledge of the history of the second world war. Nuances such as enigma machines, for example, will only be caught by those familiar with German technology. The PG13 rating is well-earned but surprisingly, foul language is almost nonexistent. I noticed a single f-word and not much else. There is not a lot of violence but the opening scene involves an air raid in which a main character is badly injured, and the last ten minutes showcase depictions of deaths that are not graphic so much as emotionally disturbing. We know a man has committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Dead bodies are shown hanging from wires in a darkened room. Another man meets the same fate (unseen). Traitors are taken before a firing squad and shot, with moderately bloody results.

 

Faith does not play an enormous role but an intelligent audience will know it is one of the driving forces behind the actions of the heroes. The camera often lingers on the cross Stauffenberg wears around his neck. One scene has him speaking of what they need to do in a church missing most of its roof. One of the most touching aspects of the production, beyond the unfailing love and support of Stauffenberg's wife, is the loyalty of his aide, who goes beyond and above the call of duty in order to show respect to his commanding officer. His actions brought everyone in the audience to tears. What matters not is failure but that good men did not stand aside and allow evil to triumph unchallenged.

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