Valkyrie (Bryan Singer, 2009)
This is a film to which I have looked forwards for some time. Having read Albert Speer’s Inside The Third Reich and other material on the Nazis, this particular plot (there were apparently 15 serious plots to assassinate Der Furher) is possibly the most familiar. Its producers made much of bringing this story to an unknowing world and Bryan Singer is reported as saying that he wanted to make a thriller, not an historical documentary. I trust I am not blowing the ending for you when I say the goodies of the “July 20” plot failed, and died horribly as traitors to the Third Reich.
The relatively short presentation kept me gripped all the way through. Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is depicted as a dedicated patriot whose motivation was to avoid any shameful legacy to his children for his part in the Nazi regime. He had no time for political ass-covering and blithely pressed on with each stage of the plot, to the occasional annoyance and frequent fear of his conspiratorial leaders. There are some subtle touches like the references to his religious leanings and the close relationship with his wife with whom he appeared to share everything. Nina von Stauffenberg survived the purges of the SS following the failed plot and died in 2006. Nina is played convincingly – given her limited script presence – by Carice van Houten (last seen by me in Paul Verhoeven’s WWII Dutch resistance thriller, Black Book, 2006). A warm mention should also go to Christian Berkel who played von Stauffenberg’s kindred spirit and supporter in Colonel von Quirnheim – representing the stern, courageous man who was determined to see that the remaining conspirators held up their end of the bargain and followed through on their commitments to von Stauffenberg. It is Quirnheim who puts the broom up the trouser leg of the well-meaning but timid General Albrecht (Nighy) to ensure the Reserve Army was deployed to the capital. This was to (unwittingly) assist the takeover of Germany under the internal security plan for which the film is named. (He initially failed in this and had to fake the initial order).
The main attraction for me, aside from the story, was the presence of a huge Brit contingent. I was disappointed that I could not see more of them – their screen presence reduced by the compacted script and running time. The result is that you have to pay attention to these performances if you want to understand the personalities of their characters. Highly creditable given the limited canvas on which they had to paint, as provided by writer Christopher McQuarrie (writer of Usual Suspects and un-credited on X-Men amongst others). One graphic point – I do not know if this was intended nor whether it is historically accurate – was the contrast between how the conspirators chose to meet their fate (stoic, accepting, unrepentant) and the preparations made by Goebbels (the example shown in the film) to commit a painless, shabby suicide should he be arrested. Of course, Hitler’s henchmen almost all chose this route at the end, but I thought this an interesting comparison between the largely cowardly bullies that were the Nazi stalwarts versus the courage of the military or aristocratic figures who attempted to overthrow them.
A well-paced thriller, the film still informs. My preference would be for a more detailed study of the game played by these resistors of the Nazi regime, their motives and personalities. The fact that Singer opted for a more commercial bent to his film is no discredit and should ensure that it reaches a wider audience. Indeed, the point that there was a German resistance to Hitler and his cronies at all is perhaps a surprise to many and revisiting this in a sympathetic way is a worthy objective. For all that, great entertainment and worth taking the family, noting it has 12A certificate in the UK.