One Bite at a Time




Thursday, August 20, 2009

Valkyrie

I was pre-disposed not to like Valkyrie. Laid up with mono last winter, I watched more television in three weeks than I usually watch in six months, and couldn’t get through an hour without seeing an ad for it, even after it was released. Word of mouth and reviews have kicked in by then; no point spending big dough on ads when free advertising has taken over. They must be desperate to recoup whatever they can, so it must be a real lizard, right?

This is why my first impressions aren’t reliable. This is a good movie. Not great, but solid. Christopher MacQuarrie and Bryan Singer, the writer and director who teamed up for The Usual Suspects, worked together on Valkyrie as well, and it shows.

Tom Cruise is, of course, miscast. He portrays Colonel von Stauffenberg as the shortest German count in history in a one-note performance. It’s the supporting cast who carry the movie. Kenneth Branagh as the general who recruits Stauffenberg but is sent to the Russian front before plans come to fruition. Tom Wilkinson as General Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army guarding Berlin, who refuses to come down either for or against the plotters until events have played themselves out. Terrence Stamp as General Beck, who will assume a large role in the new government if they can pull this off. Also included is a solid cast of lesser known British and German actors, all of whom are believable. David Bamber is a convincingly creepy Hitler.

I was familiar with the plot, thwarted by chance when a briefing is moved and the bomb explodes under a table sturdy enough to defect the blast away from Hitler. What I didn’t know was the extent of the conspiracy. The German Reserve Army actually arrested SS officers and was in the process of taking Berlin, thinking all the while they were under orders established in the event of a coup attempt, not realizing until later they were the coup.

Suspense movies where the end result is known ahead of time have a tough row to hoe. (I’m assuming everyone except Birthers and Death Panel believers knows this wasn’t how Hitler died.) Valkyrie is no Day of the Jackal in this regard, but it’s well worth watching.

I’m not one for “important” messages in movies, but there’s one worth noting. It has become popular recently to blame all of Germany for the Nazi excesses, and it cannot be denied many otherwise decent Germans were at least tacitly complicit. Valkyrie shows there were Germans, at all levels and with everything to lose, whose consciences demanded they do what was best for humanity at great personal risk. There were over a dozen attempts on Hitler’s life. Each failure was responded to with vicious retribution, but new recruits were always to be found. This, too, should not be forgotten.

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