Valkyrie

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VALKYRIE  does a pretty decent, fairly accurate job telling—in big studio thriller fashion—the story of the man who led the men who very nearly killed Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. The ‘forlorn hope’ mission, or parts of it, have been covered before, but this expensive 2008 version starring Tom Cruise bids fair to be the last cinema treatment of a desperate, gallant attempt to stop Nazi madness before complete Götterdämmerung.

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Realizing that the war has decisively turned in favor of the Allies, a group of senior German soldiers, career officers in the Wehrmacht, make plans to kill Hitler and install a new government which can make peace, saving their country from total ruin and utter disgrace. Spearheading the plotters is disillusioned aristocrat Col. Claus von Stauffenburg (Cruise), a badly wounded veteran of the fighting in North Africa.

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Naturally, with a few exceptions like Thomas Krestchmann, most of the actors playing the Germans are British (is there a p.c. sub-cohort working on this dastardly aberration?): stalwarts like Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Terence Stamp, with Australian Tom Wilkinson added for a good measure of severity. Though Tom’s casting drew a lot of expected flak, Cruise is fine—they all are—and the plotting moves along apace under the direction of Bryan Singer, with a good script from Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander.

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Those who know history realize the outcome is foregone and dire, but a viable amount of tension is cranked up and the detailed production design is very impressive, from the superbly done action sequence opener—von Stauffenberg’s unit being strafed to pieces in Tunisia—to the assorted homes, headquarters, retreats and fortifications in Germany, some recreated on 70 sets, many filmed on the actual locations. California’s Mohave Desert makes do nicely for Tunisia. The production cost $75,000,000 according to the studio, but may have been as much as 20% higher.

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Not as powerful as intended, and von Stauffenberg’s character remains enigmatic (no fault of the leading man): the material would play better as a mini-series. Still, commendable as a wide-audience history lesson, and as a well-appointed WW2 thriller, and deserving praise as overdue recognition that there was notable Fatherland resistance to the 3rd Reich’s insanity. *

Reviews were respectable, and it took 36th money-place for the year, grossing $200,277,000. With Christian Berkel, Carice van Houten, Eddie Izzard, Tom Hollander, Kevin McNally, David Bamber and Bernard Hill. 124 minutes.

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* Prior tellings: the 2004 German TV movie Operation Valkyrie, a US TV movie from 1990 titled The Plot To Kill Hitler, and in subplots from The Night Of The Generals (1966) and The Desert Fox (1951). The 2008 version leaves out mention of the possible involvement of esteemed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and while it postscript-notes the execution of principals, it neglects to mention that fully 4,980 people were killed in retribution. Fascists don’t like to be questioned (watch any White House press conferences lately?).

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