The Unlikely German
As a soldier in Tunisia Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) was already of the mind that Hitler was destroying his beloved Germany and something needed to be done. But it is in Tunisia that Stauffenberg's career is almost destroyed when he loses an eye and arm due to an allied air strike. It is following his recuperation that he meets like minded soldiers including Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) and General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) who have been involved in previous assassination attempts. They come up with a plan to blow Hitler up with Stauffenberg himself delivering the bomb whilst those known to be loyal to Hitler were to be quelled from stopping the coup using the reserve army.
I wonder how many people watched "Valkyrie" with just the basic knowledge that there was a failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life. I wonder how many with more knowledge had watched one of the previous movies which had been made about the attempt on Hitler's life before watching this big screen version. I had seen two versions of the story prior to watching "Valkyrie" they were the 1990 movie "The Plot to Kill Hitler" and the 2004 German version "Operation Valkyrie". Now as such I will say that my expectations of this big screen version especially when considering the cast were not high yet I will say that I ended up impressed by this fictionalized account based on the known facts.
So with my knowledge of the story I have to say that I was surprised by how gripped I became by this version with director Bryan Singer doing an impressive job of turning the story in to a big production with out losing the drama. For example in those opening scenes in Tunisia we have the spectacular as the German base comes under fire from an Allied fighter plane. It has that aspect of scale and spectacular which had been lacking in the previous versions and in doing so manages to grab the attention of a mainstream audience who are watching "Valkyrie" to be entertained more than be informed.
But what Singer does after establishing scale is give us a political thriller as we follow the goings on of the plotters to put in to place their seemingly mad plan to assassinate Hitler in his own secure bunker. It is snappy, intriguing and has just enough imagination to enthral you without feeling like it is resorting to tricks to keep you interested. A scene which sees Stauffenberg and Olbricht visit General Friedrich Fromm, played by Tom Wilkenson, and mid conversation Fromm reaches for the phone it delivers tension but also an entertaining surprise as we watch him unplug it, disconnecting the bugging device contained inside. It is a scene which is sold by the reaction of fear which Billy Nighy fills Olbricht with as he knows they have had an extremely close shave. There are a lot more of these scenes but as I said they don't spoil the balance of the movie and in fact are what make it exciting.
In fact the biggest praise I can give director Bryan Singer is that he managed to take a story which I knew, one which many knew and has a well known outcome and made it so exciting that it sucked me in to the point that I forgot I was watching a movie which I already knew the outcome of.
Of course there is the subject of the acting with the American Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg and a cast of recognizable British actors in other significant roles as Germans including comedian Eddie Izzard. On paper it sounds terribly wrong having Stauffenberg with an American accident and Bill Nighy's very recognizable voice as a General Friedrich Olbricht but it works. In fact the acting through out is impressive and as for Tom Cruise, well in truth he is impressive because he parts way with so many of his usual mannerisms and brings a restraint to the role we rarely see from him, allowing the other actors such as Kenneth Cranham to play it big.
What this all boils down to is that "Valkyrie" is impressive not only as a production but also from the viewpoint that here is a story with a known outcome yet it sucks you into the unfolding drama and making you forget that you know how it will end.