A Valkyrie, according to Old Scandinavian mythology is a beautiful maiden who serves the Nordic god Odin, bringing specially-selected slain warriors into a resting place called Valhalla, and tending to them.
This mythic significance of the Valkyries is played out literally and allegorically in this movie named after these maidens. Operation Valkyrie is a historical fact: it was a covert operation spearheaded by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Hitler had said that these men and women who fought and were wounded for his cause were worthy of being tended to by Valkyries.
Tom Cruise stars as the charismatic and determined protagonist Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. The real Stauffenberg served as a courageous and well decorated officer in Hitler’s army. But it was at the height of WWII that his loyalty to his beloved Germany superceded his oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer. Stauffenberg believed that Hitler’s blind hatred and ambition was poisoning Germany and would result in the nation’s downfall.
As Stauffenberg is posted back to Berlin from the battlefield after being injured, he is quickly ushered into a circle of powerful and influential military figures who share the same change of heart as he. Their new mission: To remove Hitler from power. As the movie unfolds, it is clear that this band of conspirators shared varying levels of conviction, each holding a compelling reason to dethrone Hitler.
Cruise’s choices of projects has become rather varied and interesting in recent years. Far from the pretty-boy days of Top Gun and Jerry Maguire, the world’s most famous Scientologist now balances his choices between poignant characters in blockbusters (MI:3, War of the Worlds) and poignant characters in art-house type films (Collateral, Lions for Lambs, The Samurai).
Like the other pretty boy Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, Cruise drops his laser-whitened 12-pack action hero persona in exchange a crusty soldier with one hand and just three fingers on the other, plus one eye and a patch. In moments throughout the movie, he places a glass eye in his socket to convey an impression of normalcy. Watching him fidget with his glass eye as he’s walking around or sitting in the car can be unnerving for some.
It is this “unprettiness” found in Valkyrie that gives it a credibility and authenticity. Maintaining historicity was clearly the intent of director Brian Singer (X-Men) – perhaps to the point of sacrificing. His aim was to create a tribute to the bravery and courage of a handful of German men and women who dared to make a stand for what they believed was right amidst insurmountable circumstances, and to that extent, Singer succeeded.
The movie is fast-paced and the audience will not feel the time pass. But in the bid to stick so closely to the facts and historical chronology, the character development leaves something to be desired.
For some, Valkyrie will open eyes of understanding on the situation in Germany during WWII; for others, it will cause them to shed a tear at the self-sacrifice and courage of this true story. But hopefully, viewers are provoked to contemplate, for at least a moment, their personal loyalties, the depth of their convictions and the personal resolution to conscience, as Stauffenberg did.