First off, let’s declare that Mr. Cruise is not what he could have been if he would just allow a few stands of gray hair to fall over his brow or a few minor wrinkles to add depth to his eyes. At the age of 46, he could use just a touch of maturity, especially when playing a German officer acting against a great ensemble cast. Up against actors like Branagh, Wilkerson, Nighy, Izzard, Bamber, and Stamp, Mr. Cruise is just second best.
Then once past the miscasting of Mr. Cruise, one has to salute the marvelous production values of this movie and its ability to convince you that we’re in the Germany of mid-1944, where a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler--hatched by a tight ring of rebel German army officers in the spring of 1944--is acted out on July 20 to poor effect. Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the handsome, aristocratic officer whose disenchantment with Nazism, the Fuehrer and the war finds many sympathetic ears (what appears to be the majority of military bigwigs) at a time when an imminent Allied invasion is expected from the West.
As the plot finally takes shape, its implementation hinges on eliminating the Fuehrer and starting a military coup in Berlin. Stauffenberg gets the brilliant idea of turning Operation Valkyrie (code name for plan that in a national emergency allows the army reserves to take control of Berlin) to their own purposes. Stauffenberg, who is on Hitler’s inner list, will place a brief-cased bomb underneath a conference table during a briefing at Wolf’s Lair, where Hitler and his staff are planning the rest of the war. Meanwhile his army associates will start a government takeover as Stauffenberg returns to Berlin.
Unfortunately July 20th was a warm summer's day and the plot’s explosive device requires a tightly-closed concrete bunker--with no windows--in order that the blast’s concussion does the job. The heat bothers Hitler so he moves his generals and his staff to an open villa where breezes blow and the explosion is not concentrated enough to do Adolf in.
Having left the villa in a hurry, Stauffenberg believes Hitler is dead and now the movie’s suspense finally takes hold as back in Berlin Operation Valkyrie moves ahead. Then thanks to interrupted phone lines nobody knows if Hitler is dead--until it’s all too late and our traitors are rounded up and shot!
And talk about the power of a symbol. It’s a good thing that Hitler’s Reich used the swastika thus preventing the previous administration from adopting its power. The production values are first rate and I was particularly taken by the overhead chandeliers of the Army Mess Hall for the officers as their design is of vertically held fluorescent lights splayed out just a bit like partially opened parasols.
Much in the movie--and in life--is summed up when one of the German generals notes: “This is a military operation and nothing ever goes according to plan.”