Monday, August 16, 2010


Last week I saw the film Valkyrie for the first time. The 2008 film starring Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg got panned by the critics, or at best mixed reviews, and may not have achieved the wider audience it deserved as a result.

I found the film, essentially about the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, worth seeing because it answered a question that has niggled in my head nearly two decades. Why were 5,000-7,000 people arrested by the Gestapo when one man carried a bomb into the Wolf's Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia? The answer is, because the people who plotted Hitler's assassination were not just trying to eliminate der Fuhrer, but had also laid out a comprehensive plan for taking control of the nation and setting up a new government.

The film centers on Claus von Stauffenberg, a colonel who came home from the North African front not only missing a hand and some fingers, but with a new resolve to end the madness. The war was lost, yet the fighting went on. Upon his return to Germany, his access to Hitler made him valuable to the other conspirators who understood fully the risks involved in this most dangerous game.

Unlike SPOILER ALERT the fairy tale "happy ending" in Inglourious Basterds, where Hitler is successfully eliminated, we know at the outset the plot will fail. Despite that knowledge, the tension remains palpable throughout, a true achievement for director Bryan Singer who previously gave us The Usual Suspects and Superman Returns.

There is some really great dialogue in the film as the conspirators wrestle with their personal justifications and fears as regards taking the next action. Each one understands that if the plot fails, they are all dead men. In other words, the movie uses the incident as a metaphor for our own life decisions. Most of us live pretty cushy lives and are not in these kinds of circumstances where we must put everything we love and own on the line. If and when the time comes, a film like this might speak to you in an even more profound way.


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