Time: 121 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A true story about a small group of German soldiers and political leaders horrified by the direction Hitler is taking their beloved country launch a plot to assasinate the Fuhrer and regain control of Germany.
BOTTOM LINE: I LOVE history, especially anything to do with World War II; however, I am not a fan of Tom Cruise, so it took me quite a while to bring myself to sit through this movie. In the end, my interest in this true story was just too intriguing to pass up. I mean, one has to wonder what would have happened to the world and how many lives would have been saved if this plot had been successful in killing Hitler in 1944. I'm surprised no one made a film about this incident sooner. It has everything one could want in a thriller – a villain you can't wait to see die and a complicated plan that has as much of a chance to succeed as it does to fail (which obviously it does). Granted this film could have been really boring considering we already know the outcome – Hitler survives – but Singer brings together a great cast and a tight, intelligent script that makes you feel like you're part of the resistance.
What the film illuminates more than anything is that, despite popular notions, not everyone in Germany was on board with Hitler's "great" plans for their nation. There was much dissent amongst the populace; of course, if you made that known, you weren't around very long to continue complaining. We all like to think that we'd be brave and fight the good fight, but when your life and family are threatened I'm sure that many of us would tow the line just to survive. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg had a wife and five children. He wanted them to grow up in a country he could be proud of and knew if Operation Valkyrie didn't work, he wouldn't be around to see that happen. Cruise does a good job of portraying this dilemma. He is clearly torn between his duty and his family. This infuses the film with much-needed heart, something rarely found in a military thriller. It gets you quickly invested in the men and their mission despite the fact that it's doomed.
That they even got close to success is something to marvel at, considering how many people had to be involved and the complexity of the physical bombing and its aftermath. There's no sense in killing Hitler only to have another one of his evil officers succeed him. Operation Valkyrie was about saving the country not just eliminating one man and to do that they had to immediately take over the government once they knew Hitler was dead. While the film builds up to the assassination attempt, it's the hours following the bombing that are the most intense and historically interesting. These men could have changed history for the better, instead they wound up in front of a firing squad paying for their insubordination with their lives with their sacrifice becoming a mere footnote of this war.
With Cruise and Singer leading this project I'm surprised it didn't do better at the box office. I suppose since it's a pretty straightforwardly shot film – no slow-motion bullets, over-the-top explosions or exciting car chases – about a very old war their usual audience decided to stay home. While not the best movie of 2008, it's a well-acted and directed piece of filmmaking that deserves a look, whether you're a history buff or not. (Once you do watch it, find the Mythbusters episode that explores this event to see if the change in location – from an underground bunker to an open air conference room would have made a difference to Hitler's fate. It's fun and fascinating.)