The following was an old blog post of mine from January 2010 originally titled, “Movie Review #1 – Valkyrie.” All changes have only been made to the grammar and not the content.
I have to admit, I was skeptical about the trailers I had barely glanced at when Valkyrie first came out. I mean, come on: the true story of a failed assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler? But at the suggestion of a friend, I decided to indulge myself. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Granted, the oath of “unconditional obedience” to Hitler (with the promise of willing to risk life & limb for it) and the awkward switch from German with English subtitles to just plain English provides the setting alongside the suspension of disbelief (given that all the actors speak English when their real-life counterparts spoke German), but it improves vastly from there.
Even before losing his right hand, left ring & pinkie fingers, as well as his left eye in a surprise air raid in North Africa, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is depicted as the pointman of the July 20th Plot of 1944. The German resistance movement seems to have political & military arms who squabble with each other about how the last attempt sucked & that they need to overtly confront the Führer. Col. Stauffenberg believes that the resistance is succumbing to their desperation & instead of grandstanding themselves to death (literally), they should try again, since making a symbolic stand isn’t enough, in that “there has to be a chance of success.” The rest of the film focuses on the preparatory stages & tasks needed before the operation is launched, although the initial attempt is aborted partly through its execution, but tried again a few days later.
Oh yeah, by the way… the assassination is only one part of a larger coup d’état by which the Schutzstaffel, or SS, is used by the resistance as the collective patsy as being responsible for the coup, thereby providing the necessary pretext for calling in the Reserve Army of 1,000 soldiers to seize major government buildings in Berlin, which would provide the red carpet for the resistance’s political wing to seize power & hopefully end World War II by being in a real power position to negotiate peace with the Allies. Of course, none of this goes according to plan.
Unforeseen changing circumstances (such as the changing of the war room meeting’s location which aided in Hitler’s probability of survival given that the air pressure was lower in the conference hut than in the bunker at Wolf’s Lair due to the weaker building materials & the higher number of windows), cowardly operatives, and just plain bad timing all serve to cumulatively screw up the operation. Hitler mainly survived the July 20th Plot mainly through the dumb luck he gained from the lack of fortitude of his assassins, not because of his own skill. Well, at least just about everyone involved either committed suicide or got executed typically via firing squad. Even the loyal General Fromm couldn’t escape execution, probably because even though he was vaguely aware of an attempt, he didn’t report it in when he was approached to be recruited.
Even though it has the tones of a war movie, Valkyrie is more accurately a spy movie. The action is more subtle & deceptive, along with plenty of teeth-clenching tension.”Heil Hitler!” salutes got replaced with “Long live sacred Germany!” declarations; in that way you could kind of tell who was on which side (of course though the resistance members would occasionally repeat the mainstream salute so as not to betray their covers).The most tense scene was when Col. Stauffenberg was by himself in a small room, allegedly changing his clothes in order to prepare the explosives with a stumped limb, two fingers, & a thumb while an aide was trying to get into the room to rush the Colonel to the briefing where Hitler was. Needless to say, an amputee trying to single-handedly (literally, again) place the explosives into a briefcase while it slides off the table is a sure nailbiter.
Valkyrie ends with some lines from the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin, “You did not bear the shame / You resisted / Sacrificing your life / For freedom, justice, & honor.” All in all, the film illuminates how covert military operations, even for a good cause, have historically been used in order to change the control of political power. Just imagine how much harder it would be to perform the same feat today with all the notable increases in security technology.
I will end with some of the best quotes, starting with my favorite:
“The people know [that] we put our principles above personal gain.” – Dr. Carl Goerdeler
“Any problem on earth can be solved with the careful application of high explosives. The trick is not to be around when they go off.” – Col. Mertz von Quirnheim
“I’m engaged in high treason with all means available to me. Can I count you in?” – Col. Stauffenberg