Valkyrie is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Terrence Stamp, David Bamber and Tom Wilkinson, so many amazing actors. It’s based on a true story, which I’m going to go back to in a minute. It takes place during the Second-World War, in Germany, and it’s all about a plot to kill Hitler. I’m going to say it right now, this is the best Second-World-War film I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some incredible films based on the war in my lifetime which are fantastic: Saving Private Ryan, The Great Escape, The Battle of Britain, Carrie’s War, The Book Thief, I’ve seen a ton of films on this era and this is probably the best.
I’m going to start on the plot: it starts with this guy Colonel von Stauffenberg, who appears in the first scene in the movie where he’s writing this diary, and you learn a huge amount of this character. It’s really subtle, how they change from narration in German to English as Stauffenberg writes that he is turning morally against the Third Reich because he is mortified at what he has seen on the front line: the levelling of so many cities, the mass-execution of the Jews, and the fact that his men are not cared for properly by their peers. Cruise’s character is really, really dedicated to the lives of the people he cares about, and he is constantly trying to preserve or save the lives of people he loves throughout the film. There’s also this scene where he talks with a general about bringing the men out, cos they are tired and hungry and really scared. Then there’s the first action sequence of the movie, an attack from Spitfires which kills everyone in the barracks, except for Stauffenberg.
Then we cut to this scene where we get these generals seated around a table, and they all look incredibly scared, and are looking at each other like ‘Oh, Jesus, I’m terrified,’ and then this plane lands where a man walks off the plane, and we find out that the man is Adolf Hitler. I’m going to talk real quick about David Bamber as Adolf Hitler: he is incredible as Hitler. He looks and sounds just like him. Not just that, there’s this presence you get from the guy which tells you that if you cross him, he will kill you – if you dare say no to him, you will die. He just sits down, he doesn’t say anything, and they all eat dinner with him. That’s the genius of Bryan Singer’s directing, the main villain doesn’t even speak and all of a sudden you’re terrified of him.
Now we get this scene where two soldiers from the German army – played by Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh – are planting a bomb on a plane intended for Hitler, but it doesn’t go off, and they go through this really brief stress episode where they are very nearly suspected of bombing the plane. I have to just go up and say it: the lineup to Staffuenberg joining the group is great. We get so much about the man’s character: we get this scene where we meet his family – his wife and three kids, and that’s one really heartwarming scene, and then there’s this part where they go into a shelter to hide from British bombers, and Stauffenberg gets his famous inspiration for the Valkyrie project. We also get a scene with Bill Nighy with him, where we think he’s praying to God for his family’s safety, when he’s actually debating the stakes for them if the plan fails: Stauffenberg is one selfless son of a bitch, he spends the entire movie worrying about his family.
The scenes where he first meets the people in the group are really interesting because he stands apart from them – he is the only front-line soldier in the whole group, and has a hugely different perspective to them. All of them underestimate him, until he proves his point very skillfully. Here, he has to go and confront this man called Fromm, who is played by Tom Wilkinson. This guy is my only issue with the movie, honestly. He is good in this movie, but his character is probably purposefully dislikeable, when he was meant to be sympathetic. We get the gist of this guy being a coward and a weakling throughout his scenes. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Even before he appears in his first scene, we have this general storming out of his office calling him a coward. When we see him first, he keeps insisting that they ‘heil’ him, out of blind loyalty to Hitler. No, not loyalty. Fear. This guy is such a coward.
I want to talk about the action in this movie: there’s no fist-fights in this movie, like you’d expect of Tom Cruise. There’s a few gunfights, very brief ones, and the bombings occur all over the run time. But, when there are action sequences, then they are done… beautifully. The directing is perfect. But this film isn’t about violence, it’s about tension, and there’s a ton of tension in this movie. The scene where we meet Hitler in his room with the other generals – including an actual likeness of Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering, and, of course, Hitler himself. This is one of the greatest scenes in the entire movie, and I’ll tell you why: the acting. All of the three main players of this scene all play different traits, and they do it brilliantly: Bill Nighy’s character is really nervous, careful. Tom Cruise is stoic and calm. David Bamber is astute, aloof and really scary. I’m not gonna lie. His scenes gave me shivers!
All of the scenes in this movie incorporate the characters incredibly well – there’s a real sense that this is a war, and that everyone’s trying to make it out alive. Everyone’s afraid of something, even Hitler, even Stauffenberg, everyone wants to escape or survive something in this movie. The scene where the bomb goes off is… just too good to be true. The build-up to the explosion is terrifying, we get that everyone is uncomfortable about something in this scene. The planners are tense as a wire, praying that the bomb goes off. The officers in there are awaiting Hitler’s orders. Hitler is slamming the table, nervous as shit, and when Stauffenberg is leaving the building, he is walking very quickly, but very stiffly. He’s like, ‘This is it.’ Get the hell out of here. It’s about to go off. You don’t want to be seen here when it… and then it goes off and the special effects in this part of the film are fantastic. You actually get the feeling that the bomb went off really nearby. You see everything fall apart, and the flames and smoke punching through windows.
The rest of the film is probably the best section of it. Stauffenberg is fleeing from the blast zone, and you can see just how tense he is, like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown. I remember one bit where he is stopped at a checkpoint and has to telephone back to HQ to get a pass from the others, but they are moments from cutting communications as per the plan. When he does get the call, they all say they doubt Hitler is even dead, and he just screams ‘Damnit! I saw the blast. Hitler is dead!’ and I just loved that part with the character. Throughout the film, he is as tense as a wire, and you’re almost scared of him. But, anyone who’s studied history knows that Hitler is still alive, and the inevitability of that revelation of that is so tragic it makes you like the heroes even more.
Then we finally cut to the scene where one of the soldiers gets a call from someone, and we get a really nerve-wracking message from Hitler: ‘Do you recognize my voice?’ ‘Yes, Mein Fuhrer’ ‘I want these traitors taken alive’. It’s awesome, actually. It’s a great way to reveal Hitler’s survival, greater even than a physical appearance, because Hitler doesn’t appear again for the rest of the movie, it’s all about the fact that Hitler wants them taken alive. And then there’s this really heartfelt scene, after Stauffenberg is this close to success, and it’s finally revealed that Hitler was alive. It’s there for everyone to see. The look on Tom Cruise’s face is absolutely… oh, he plays this guy to perfection in this film. They make a desperate bid for escape, but they are all caught and arrested.
The final minutes of the movie are so great. We get to see all of the conspirators, except for Kenneth Branagh’s character, gathered in one room with Fromm and a few soldiers standing over them. Fromm announces that they are all to be shot that very night. One of the conspirators, played by the really versatile Terence Stamp, asks for a pistol ‘for personal reasons’ and then he shoots himself in the head, taking the honorable way out. And after that, Fromm keeps lording it over them, the fact that they will be shot, and none of them are denying their part. But, they are all subtly hinting to the other soldiers that Fromm was also involved, which Fromm desperately denies to his men. But you can just tell that he will soon have a noose around his neck, as it were.
We cut to the last scene in the movie where all of the men in the conspiracy are killed. Kenneth Branagh wanders into a field, primes a grenade and presses it to his neck, and we see it explode from a distance, and that’s good. We then see the firing squad gun down the others. Fromm is watching from the balcony, and looks so… dispassionate. He thinks he’s won, he thinks he’s got out of it alive. We cut to Stauffenberg being led in front of the firing squad, and suddenly Bill Nighy’s guy walks in his way, taking the bullets instead of him, and the look on his face is so… tear-jerking. He’s such a good actor in this movie, and he doesn’t get any credit for it. Now, the firing squad rearm their guns and aim at Stauffenberg. Now, just seconds before they fire, he screams at the top of his lungs ‘Long live sacred Germany’ and then he is shot dead. The silence that follows is so… oh, my god, the silence, it’s like something out of a horror movie, it’s really creepy. We then learn that Fromm was later exposed and he too was executed, showing how futile his efforts were.
So that’s it, guys. That’s Valkyrie. I really enjoyed this film, it’s got a great storyline, some really interesting characters, the acting and choreography is brilliant, the cinematography is out of this world. It’s an unbelievably incredible movie.