The title is the code name for a secret coup carried out on July 20, 1944, to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The intricate details of the plot and the long list of conspirators are too complex to skim over in a compact feature length motion picture.
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men” and “Superman Returns”) along with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) take on the impossible task of making people aware of the most famous of the fifteen failed attempts on the life of the most evil tyrant the world has ever known.
The movie scores points by telling the story from a German insider perspective. The star power of Tom Cruise puts him at the center of the maelstrom when actually his character was merely a catalyst carrying the briefcase explosive that put things in motion.
The movie is very intense, but knowing the eventual outcome takes away from the nail-biting suspense. The movie proceeds very slowly with a lot a dialogue and very little action. It feels almost an hour longer than its actual two hour running time. There is really nobody to root for since attempting to candy coat some Nazis (as good Germans) doesn’t ring true.
The movie starts out seriously by reciting the oath of unconditional obedience given by German military officers to the Fuhrer. The back story set in North Africa shows how Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) lost his left eye, his right hand above the wrist and two fingers on his left hand during a devastating bombing run by Allied planes.
Stauffenberg is promoted to Chief of Staff for the reserve army. This gives him access to Hitler. His relationship with his wife and family are given short shrift. We then get a bunch of British actors dressed up like German officers speaking English.
The star-studded ensemble cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Hollander and Terence Stamp. They describe themselves as “rats jumping from a sinking ship.”
There is a lot of opinions expressed during the planning stage. The background music tries to rev things up to a fever pitch, but there is no forward momentum to support the heightened crescendo.
Cruise alternates between wearing a black eye patch and putting in his fake eyeball. He shows intense determination while maintaining a stern demeanor and a stiff upper lip. It is hard not to laugh at his performance which sometimes borders on a parody from an extended “Saturday Night Live” skit.
The other actors dance circles around Cruise’s drawing card appeal. The perpetrators are all found guilty of high treason and executed by a firing squad. Ironically, Hitler committed suicide just nine months later.
The movie is to be commended for filming in Berlin and Brandenburg where many of the actual events occurred. The atmosphere of urgency and paranoia are enhanced tremendously by meticulously designed set recreations and visiting existing historical edifices. It is a thrill to get to see Hitler’s headquarters at Wolf’s Lair and the historic building complex known as Bendlerblock.
If this movie with a historical basis in fact whets your appetite for this material, you should read an excellent book on the subject titled “Killing Hitler: The Plots, the Assassins and the Dictator Who Cheated Death” by Roger Moorhouse. It gives a fascinating in-depth account that you can digest and more readily comprehend at your leisure.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"