DVD Release Date:  May 19, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  December 25, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Bryan Singer
Actors:  Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp

Diligent students of World War II history know not every Nazi was a devoted Nazi.  Conspirators from deep within their ranks made a total 15 attempts—all unsuccessful—to kill Hitler.  Ultimately, the psychotic Fürher committed suicide as Russian troops advanced on the Reich Chancellery where he was hiding with his wife (whom he had married the day before), Eva Braun.  Hitler died after simultaneously shooting himself in the mouth and taking a cyanide capsule.

In Valkyrie, those who know that history and those who don’t will be treated to a surprisingly factual narrative about one of the most celebrated of those attempts.  The film feels more like a documentary than a feature, however, which is surprising given that director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) has a penchant for the dramatic.  Singer tries to inject that here but ultimately, the script suffers from “talking heads” syndrome, with far too many people talking and doing very little.

Colonel Claus von Staffenberg (Tom Cruise) is an officer assigned to the 10th Panzer Division in Tunisia during WWII.  While standing outside his tent in the desert, Staffenberg is strafed by low-flying bombers from the Royal Air Force.  He is left for dead but survives.  His injuries are so extensive, however, that he loses his right hand, his left eye and three fingers of his left hand.

After his convalescence, Staffenberg meets Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh).  The film then flashes back to a previous assassination attempt by von Tresckow, who had tried to blow up Hitler’s plane with a bomb hidden in some French liqueur.  Stauffenberg joins the ranks of likeminded men, including Gen. Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy),  Gen. Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson), Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) and Gen. Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard).

Staffenberg receives a promotion, which puts him into an even bigger position of power. He convinces the other conspirators that their plans are doomed to fail again.  “And then what?” he says.  Essentially, it isn’t enough to just kill the Fürher.  You have to take control of his government as well.

Staffenberg lays out his proposal, which hinges around Hitler’s “Operation Valkyrie.”  Under this emergency plan, Hitler’s reserve army will be called up, if the regular army ever becomes incapacitated and communication is cut off .  Staffenberg wants to use Valkyrie to stage the coup that would take place after Hitler’s assassination. 

The plot goes into motion.  Staffenberg himself plants the bomb, which he places in a briefcase under a table where Hitler and his men are working.  Unfortunately, he is interrupted and is only able to activate one of the two explosives.  He then quickly leaves the building.

Staffenberg hears the explosion behind him and wrongly assumes that Hitler has been killed.  He unwittingly launches Operation Valkyrie.  But less than 24 hours later, it is he who is dead—along with another 200 people and 700 to 5,000 more (depending on who you ask) who were arrested in connection to the plot.  

Prior to its Christmas 2008 release—which was pushed back four times—Valkyrie was plagued with a host of problems that ranged from a lawsuit by injured extras to Cruise’s tabloid exploits.  It is the latter, of course, which dominated the headlines, placing Cruise in the unenviable position of trying to resurrect a flailing career and prove that he could churn out a blockbuster from his newly-purchased film studio, United Artists.  With Valkyrie, he manages to do both—but only to a degree.