Saturday, February 21, 2009

Valkyrie


In the later years of World War II members in Hitler’s own army were attempting to kill him, and the most famous of these, because it almost succeeded, was the July 20 Plot: the inspiration for the latest Tom Cruise starrer, Valkyrie.

Count Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), an officer from the famed Afrika Corps, lead the conspirators into using Operation Valkyrie: a self defense measure signed by Hitler himself. The plan, modified for purposes of the coup, involved the mobilization of the reserve army under General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) to secure major government installations as well as isolating and imprisoning much of the hierarchy of the more loyal SS. Once the loyal parts of Hitler’s regime were incapacitated, more respected leaders such as Ludwig Beck (Terrence Stamp) and Dr. Carl Goerdeler (Kevin McNally) were expected to take control of the military and the chancellorship of the government respectively.


Overall the film has the air of a typical spy thriller with a little touch of politics. The pacing is good and there is always the perception of movement.

Each character is defined: there is a group leader doubling as assassin; there are politicians who seem more trouble than a help; and there seem to be useless men always lurking in between. Audiences will have no need to bother with historical details but I suppose the greater trick would be to remember all the German names for future Google search.

Tom Cruise cannot arouse little emotions try as he might but he is a hero, he is the leading man. Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Ulbricht) is no General with that sickly thin body of his, but then he was meant to be indecisive. Most likely his body type was meant to emphasize the indecisiveness of the character. Overall there is nothing bad to be said of the cast they all blended in the context of the story; surely a product of a script that clearly defines who they are.

Story wise with the outcome already played out in history Valkyrie had little going for it in terms of suspense. I know enough if only it is just how Hitler died. But to director Bryan Singer’s credit I didn’t find the film boring. In part I think credit should go to Singer’s perfect setting of the film’s emotional tone: a Germany in near ruin wanting to win back its honor. Count Claus von Stauffenberg giving the german salute with a right hand clearly amputated was a stroke of genius in showing how far Germany had fallen and was in need of saving.

Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) says it all; the point of the attempt was to show the world that it is not “Hitler’s Germany”. A coup has to be successful before Allied victory as a means of making amends to the world at large for the War.

To the film’s credit I found myself rooting for the conspiracy and that is always good for a film; the audience believing in the characters and the mission. It was if I was almost hoping that this version would be different. Hitler is after all one of the most despised men in history. My friend who watched with me also gave it thumbs up as well. He says that for a film that is more talk than action he did not sleep at all.

So what does a guy like me who knew the ending way to early do for the rest of the film? I do what fans of books and comics do when they watch adaptations on film; enjoy the characters visually play out the story and see if emotions derived are the same as imagined. I enjoyed especially watching the dynamic of conspiracies. How does on organize against a government especially one which has a fanatical following?

Getting to Fromm was an all or nothing move in itself and it isn’t even an attempt yet on Hitler’s life. Once successful the problem remains; how much information you can tell the people under Fromm’s command. Many could still be loyal to Hitler.

Information has always been a double edge sword in conspiracies. In the right amounts and more importantly to the right persons it will be a source of strength. The plot can lay hidden waiting until the right moment. While in the wrong amounts and to the wrong persons needless to say results will be catastrophic.

In hindsight killing would have been simple but the conspirators had to consider a credible working infrastructure that could negotiate with the Allies for peace. The way I see it, who cares if the country plunges to civil war as long as the true driving force is dead? Take the chance.

But that is just me having as they say the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The conspirators had wanted it all; in addition to Hitler they wanted Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler too. But they didn’t know when or if at all the three can be together or when, never realizing that every in every miss, nerves falter, and they slowly expose themselves.

It must be emphasized also to read up to know how accurate did the filmmakers make of the plot. That includes one part which I deem as the saddest thing in the story; the conspirators almost campaigning man to man, sector by sector, after they planted the bomb. One would think as system was in place, or that people will be dancing in the streets in the event an assassination succeeded, but no. Von Stauffenberg and Beck was seen working the phone using all powers of persuasion just so a sector can be placed under their side. Soldiers just shouldn't campaign like politicians especially when their enemy can still pack a punch.

Truly Valkyrie, from beginning to end, is a litany of missed opportunities in history. Maybe destiny is true for a plot so well thought out to have failed, or that a country so progressive as Germany have followed a mad man who makes speeches like he has epilepsy.

Is it worth it? Should they have waited? Considering 20/20 hindsight, all the war dead, German self respect, and the type of man Hitler is, YES. Some nine months after the July 20 Plot the war ended, but not after purging of almost 5,000 citizens were rounded up relation to the plot. Such men should really taken out preferably successfully.