Previous Review
Next Review
May 31, 2009
Review - " Valkyrie "  - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
For comments or to submit a movie review for possible inclusion on Delta Films site
please send an email to
Valkyrie movie poster
Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh - Valkyrie
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Clarice van
Houten, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard

"Valkyrie" is the film, nimbly directed by Bryan Singer ("X-Men") and based on a
true story about an elaborate, complicated, almost-successful assassination
attempt that occurred in 1944. Cruise plays Nazi Col. Claus von Stauffenberg,
who at the film's outset has already been sent to the North African front as
punishment for his outspokenness against Hitler (although he must not have
been too outspoken, since he's still alive). He's one of a growing number of
officers who believe that, as he puts it, "We can serve Germany or the Fuhrer,
but not both." Germany is losing the war under Hitler's direction; the only hope is
to remove him from power, cut their losses, and make peace with the Allies.

Once Stauffenberg's opinions become known throughout the underground, he's
brought into the inner circle of coup plotters, whose numbers include a lot of
high-ranking German officers -- a lot more than you'd think a cabal could have
and still remain secret. Unfortunately, with their similar uniforms, their matching
British accents, and their near-universal middle-aged-white-maleness, it's hard to
keep track of them all in the film, but they're led by Major-Gen. von Tresckow
(Kenneth Branagh) and Gen. Beck (Terence Stamp), now retired from duty but
still keenly interested in the future of Germany. Gen. Olbricht (Bill Nighy) is
onboard but overly cautious; Gen. Fellgibel (Eddie Izzard) is a communications officer whose cooperation will be vital; and
Gen. Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), by far the most interesting of the lot, manages to endorse the plot without doing so openly,
thus remaining sufficiently two-faced to save his own neck.

More participants are involved than I have named, played by less famous actors and given less screen time; the film, feeling
obligated to remain true to life, introduces more characters than it knows what to do with. It even presents von
Stauffenberg's wife, Nina (Carice van Houten), only to whisk her away again before she has a chance to add anything to the

This shadowy group's plan involves planting a bomb in Hitler's bunker, killing him, then quickly gaining control of the
government by misapplying a back-up plan called Valkyrie, which Hitler designed to be employed in the event of civil unrest
following a catastrophic Allied attack. It's actually a rather brilliant scheme to use the government's own strength against
itself -- and it would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!

Tom Cruise was okay in the role. I've never hated him as much as some people do, but I'm not exactly a fan of his either,
having a firmly neutral opinion of his acting talents. His physical resemblance to the actual von Stauffenberg is remarkable. I
thought he came across as a "strong presence,"  but I didn't think there was a lot of nuance or subtlety. He did his job, but
was outshone by the supporting cast.
Kenneth Branagh did an amazing
job as Major General Henning von
Tresckow. In reality, Tresckow was
one of the first high-ranking
German officers to turn against
Hitler, and was the main motive
force behind the conspiracy until
Stauffenberg was recruited. He
also turned against Hitler for
primarily moral reasons, while
many of the other plotters didn't
turn against the dictator until
Germany began to lose the war.
Tresckow is something of an
unsung hero historically. The
scenes involving a failed plot to
blow up Hitler's aircraft are nicely

Tom Wilkinson was well-cast as
Colonel General Friedrich Fromm,
aware of the plot but
unable/unwilling to fully commit
himself, then shooting the
conspirators himself once the plot failed, in an attempt to get rid of witnesses who knew of his complicity. Bill Nighy was
likewise excellent as General Friedrich Olbrict, a more sympathetic character than Fromm, but more fearful and indecisive
than Stauffenberg or Tresckow . Terence Stamp gave a certain dignity to his role as retired General Ludwig Beck. The
various other supporting actors all do their jobs well, including Eddie Izzard as the general in charge of shutting off
communications from Hitler's headquarters once the bomb goes off.

"Valkyrie" is gutsy for telling a story that we know won't end well, and admirable for telling it in a way that's occasionally
suspenseful. Like all good espionage dramas, it's full of furtive glances, knowing looks, and hiss-whispered conversations,
and that's moderately enjoyable as far as it goes.

What it's lacking is a human element. The still-charismatic Cruise and the others give adequate performances, but there's
just too much plot, and too many characters to contend with, for it to hit home with us. Furthermore, it rarely rises to the
level of entertainment you expect from a wartime thriller -- there's something rote and foregone about the whole affair.
Knowing how it played out historicly "Valkyrie" never manages to build suspense and make us wonder if they will succeed in
the end, unlike the political thriller "13 Days in May" where even though you KNOW how it turns out you find yourself on the
edge of your seat wondering if the USA and Russia will obliterate each other over the Cuban blockade. The only real thrill is
in discovering how, exactly, the assassination attempt will fail, and what terrible consequences it will lead to for the
perpetrators. The destination doesn't need to be happy, but the film ought to make the journey more lively than this.