valkyrieValkyrie is an old-fashioned espionage thriller based on a large-scale plot within the Nazi ranks to assassinate Hitler. It’s one of those ‘what if’ tales which, had it succeeded, might have completely changed the fate of Europe.

At the centre of the conspiracy is Claus von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise, a one-eyed German officer whose bravery has earned him priceless access to Hitler’s bunker. Unknown to the higher echelons of Hitler’s army, however, von Stauffenberg has despised the F├╝hrer for years. In 1943 he joins a cabal of equally disenchanted officers who plan to topple the Third Reich and recapture their beloved Vaterland.

Von Stauffenberg is tasked with smuggling a briefcase-full of explosives into a conference room Hitler is visiting, and then using the national reserve army to turn against the SS. Because we know the outcome of the attempted coup, which led to 700 arrests and 200 executions, including von Stauffenberg’s, the tension is built up in the protagonists’ minds, and the interest lies in how far they manage to get before their plans come tumbling down around them.

The script by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander is more functional than inspired, playing out in a tense thriller which never really gets beneath the skin of its central character. Von Stauffenberg is a natural leader and patriot who wears his war wounds as a badge of honour. His motivations for turning against Hitler, however, are mixed. He finds the Nazi treatment of the Jews “offensive” and considers the Kristallnacht a disgrace to his country. But the genocide going on at that time is barely mentioned by the officers, who seem more concerned with their country’s reputation.

Kevin Branagh gives a sturdy performance as the major-general who smuggles a Cointreau bottle rigged with explosives into Hitler’s inner circle, and out again when it fails to detonate, while Tom Wilkinson’s general artfully flirts with both sides, welcoming the plot but making sure his back is covered should it fail.

Bryan Singer’s cast exhibit a range of accents, including RP British, German and in Cruise’s case, full-blown tough-guy American. The reason behind this decision is unclear. Is the German lilt of David Bamber’s Hitler designed to live up to popular stereotypes, or did Singer simply decide that the rest of the cast couldn’t put on a convincing accent without turning the film into an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo?

Valkyrie is a tight thriller that sheds light on an important and little known episode in Germany’s history. Though lacking in psychological depth, within its limited scope the film is both informative and entertaining.

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