One wonders what the audience-response cards from test screenings of "Valkyrie" must have been like.
"This is a suspenseful thriller, like 'Mission: Impossible,' although I'm not sure how I feel about the mission actually being impossible. This Hitler guy should probably die."
Yes, that would be a crowd-pleaser, but the filmmakers are shackled by the constraints of history.
"Valkyrie" tells the true story of a nearly successful attempt to kill Hitler, and director Bryan Singer feels that it's important to include as much historical accuracy as possible, such as making sure that everyone in the German army who is not Tom Cruise is British (no wonder they wanted to kill Hitler).
The German officer corps looks like it just spilled out of a bar on the West End - Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, etc.
On one hand, it's kind of silly, on the other, these are very fine actors, and give this super-slick thriller some of the facets and angles that help make a cool object at which to gaze.
Cruise is his usual, instantly graspable self - the Prussian aristocrat/officer Stauffenberg, who hates what Hitler has done to Germany, and who (after he's wounded in Africa) joins a group of high-ranking officers who intend to blow up Der Führer.
The movie is long on action and short on background, and so glosses over some of the interesting details of the conspiracy. Like the fact that it dated back some half dozen years, and included officers who'd decided as early as 1938 that Hitler was a menace who'd have to go.
Stauffenberg is the dynamic, no-nonsense catalyst who finally gets these quivering Hamlets to commit - single-handedly taking over planning of the assassination, then planting the bomb himself.
In a sense, the bomb has always been there. Stauffenberg is the fuse, a metaphor that Singer uses adroitly as he rattles off the details of the plot - the construction of the bomb, the details of the placement.
It's high-tension stuff, and there's a great scene of Stauffenberg, his fingers maimed by war, fumbling to arm the bomb in the seconds before he plants it at Hitler's feet.
And the bomb is just the half of it. Stauffenberg and company must also come up with a way to wrest the German government from the SS (the Nazi party's political army) once Hitler is out of the way. "Valkyrie" shows how the men concoct an ingenious plan to mobilize Berlin's army reserve units - a plan that nearly works.
The rest is a study of men under pressure, which brings out the best in some, the worst in others.
Two actors are especially well cast: Wilkinson as the bureaucratic general who won't act until he's sure his ass is covered, and Nighy as the weak-willed officer who goes to lunch when he should be activating the army reserve.
Cruise's Stauffenberg never wavers, and while Cruise is good at earnest commitment, it gives his character fewer dimensions.
Stauffenberg, of course, didn't get Hitler, but he did get his own statue - the only German monument to resistance ever erected after WWII. *