by Rick Grant

Grade: B / Rated PG-13
Director Bryan Singer boldly brought this real life Shakespearian-like drama to the screen despite misgivings from just about everyone in Hollywood. The buzz was: Who would want to see a Hitler movie? Tom Cruise’s clout and Singer’s stellar reputation green-lighted the project. Writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander stayed close to the facts of this complex plot to kill Hitler.
Singer used real airplanes and limited CGI effects to enhance the credibility of the historical reality of the film. Hiring an A-list cast who uttered volumes of well written dialogue elevated this movie above the status of a typical Tom Cruise vehicle.
McQuarrie and Alexander’s masterly written scenario is told in sequence instead of opening with the assassination attempt and working backwards. The lead up to the actual explosion is nerve wracking after the bomb is primed with a crude acid based fuse that was very inaccurate. The bomb could have gone off in five or ten minutes. The explosion happens toward the middle of the running time. Miraculously, Hitler survived. Then the terrible aftermath keeps the audience on edge, as the excrement hits the fan, and the coup conspirators are rounded up and executed.
The verbose script tells the story with great pomposity as these Wehrmacht aristocrats were played by exemplary actors. Kenneth Branagh plays Major General Henning von Tresckow. With grandiose ambivalence, Tom Wilkerson portrays General Friedrich Fromm. He executes the key conspiritors to hide his knowledge of the coup. However, it didn’t work. He was found guilty of treason and hung.
Terrance Stamp is properly sinister as Ludwig Beck a major planner and believer in the urgency of the mission. Eddie Izzard portrays General Erich Fellgiebel, who severed communications from the Wolf’s Lair after the bomb blast.
Tom Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg with stern resolve. Cruise is a fine actor, and like in his performance in A Few Good Men, he brought convincing realism to his Stauffenberg character. Stauffenberg, along with many high ranking Wehrmacht officers, were convinced that Hitler would destroy Germany as the Allies marched through France and closer to German territory. They believed that the only way to negotiate a cease fire and save face was to kill Hitler and take over the Reich using the reserve army.
Clearly, Stauffenberg’s intricate plan seemed sound to the coup conspirators. He was chosen as the point man because he had been promoted and had close access to Hitler. He also had his hands on Hitler’s secret plan called Valkyrie, which was to use the back up reserve army to protect the Reich in Berlin. Stauffenberg had the Valkyrie altered and tricked Hitler into signing it.
After Hitler was dead, the Valkyrie document would give Stauffenberg the authority to set the coup leaders in place and arrest the fanatically loyal SS troops guarding Third Reich headquarters. Then the new Chancellor would be flown in from Switzerland.
There had been other failed attempts to kill Hitler. So everything was riding on this elaborate plan. It would happen at Hitler’s heavily guarded Wolf’s Lair during a meeting in the reinforced bunker. The bomb was high explosive plastic-two brick sized blocks. Inside the the windowless building, the confined pressure and blast would incinerate everyone in the bunker.
Ah yes, in any military operation, things go wrong. First, the bunker was too hot, so they had the meeting moved to an open windowed building, which would release the bomb pressure. Second, Stauffenberg’s briefcase was moved slightly away from Hitler. Third, Stauffenberg could only prime one bomb block and he left the other in the room where he was supposedly changing his clothes. Finally, Hitler leaned over the big oak table just as the bomb exploded, shielding him from the blast.
Of course, Hitler survived and pronounced himself immortal. The war dragged on for another 13 months. The aftermath of the failed coup attempt was costly. 5,000 Wehrmacht officers were executed. Hitler’s paranoia reached new heights of insanity as he wallowed in his own megalomania. If the coup had succeeded, millions of lives would have been saved and the map of Europe would look entirely different.