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Valkyrie

Year: 2008
Production Co: United Artists
Director: Bryan Singer
Producer: Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner/Bryan Singer/Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie/Nathan Alexander
Cast: Tom Cruise, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Brannagh, Carice van Houten, Eddie Izzard
The story of how stars or directors get involved in certain films must surely be as fascinating as the movie itself if only we could learn the truth about it. Unfortunately we never do until a) the studio and filmmakers aren't promoting the movie anymore or b) the star's dead.

What Mr third degree uber-Thetan really saw in the story of Hitler's would-be assassin von Stauffenberg we might never know, although something about the themes of doomed sacrifice and heroism that would make any actor look like the good guy to end them all would have something to do with it.

Ironically, in a cast of heavyweight thesps instead of stars, Cruise is the odd man out. This is Cruise the actor rather than Cruise the showboat hero - he does a good job and throws everything he has into it, but he just seems so out of place beside Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Kenneth Brannagh.

I recommend listening to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie's two-hour long podcast with Creative Screenwriting editor Jeff Goldsmith to learn how much work went into the processing of ratcheting up the tension, but with McQuarrie's script, director Singer has done a great job of screw-tightening and your metaphorical knuckles will slowly turn white over the course of the whole movie.

In that vein it's a classic and effective paranoia thriller like Three Days of the Condor rather than a collective guilt trip like Saving Private Ryan or any number of new war movies that are about the blood on all our hands rather than blowing away inhuman Nazis (Where Eagles Dare, The Wild Geese, et al).

Cruise is the Colonel who can see the writing on the walls from his command in the North African desert - of massive Nazi defeats in the face of the tide turning on both European fronts. After an attack that leaves him short a hand and an eye, he returns to Berlin determined to do something to put a stop to the Fuehrer before all of Germany goes down the plughole.

Von Stauffenberg finds his way to a top secret cabal of senior officials dedicated to the same cause and becomes their point man, charged with delivering an explosive device to take out Hitler and his top command and then act swiftly to take control of the machinery of German government in order to broker peace with the advancing Allies. Like Titanic, we know how the story ends, but that doesn't make living through it any less thrilling.

It's also worth mentioning the long shadow cast over the movie industry by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the first film that convinced Hollywood and audiences it was possible to make a film with wide appeal in a foreign language. To some extent, any movie that doesn't do so comes off the lesser, and though it would undoubtedly have been unwieldy to teach so many high profile actors to speak German, it would have given the movie a huge credibility boost.

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