Monday, January 19, 2009

History as Film

More movie reviews! I'm still trying to finish recapping all of the films NavyGuy and I saw over Christmas break. So far we've touched on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, and Slumdog Millionaire. Next up - Valkyrie.

Remember... you may encounter SPOILERS ahead.

So, let's preface this with, I hate Tom Cruise. He's odd, he's turned cute little Katie Holmes into some weird robot, his Scientology makes me want to stock canned goods, and I do not think he's aged well. Despite the fact that Cruise headlines the movie, Valkyrie exceeded my expectations. Cruise plays a German military official who joins forces with others in Germany who are anti-Hitler, and attempts to assassinate Der Fuhrer. Operation Valkyrie was a contingency plan for the country in case of a national emergency; it involved calling up the National Reserve, and Cruise's character (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg) reworks it in order to take over the German government once Hitler is assassinated.

Anyone who knows their World War II history knows that Hitler is not assassinated. He dies a suicidal death in his bunker as the war ends. But that doesn't matter when you're watching the movie. You spend the entire film knowing that von Stauffenberg isn't going to succeed, and yet, you watch mesmerized, hoping that your history knowledge is failing you. When you realize how many assassination attempts failed by mere chance, it becomes almost painful to watch. The Valkyrie plot failed because it was too hot that day - Hitler's meeting was moved from an indoor bunker to a venue with many windows. Because of the windows, the bomb placed in a briefcase underneath the table in the venue didn't have the immense impact it would have had in a sealed bunker. If the meeting had happened in the sealed bunker, Hitler, and his inner circle, would likely have been killed. Ah, the what ifs.

I digress. The film is just the right length to tell the story (unlike the epic Benjamin Button), and is never dull. Cruise convincingly portrays a German military officer, weighing the risks of following his conscience with the risks of ignoring it. (I will agree with my amateur movie critic friend Miss Kewi that a German accent would have significantly enhanced his performance.) There is enough action and narrative to interest even the history-hater, and the history-lover will leave the theater anxious to go home and Wikipedia the real events to learn more. If this one isn't still in the theaters near you, throw it into your Netflix queue - a reminder of the "what ifs" of history is always good.


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