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Valkyrie is a 2008 historical thriller film set in Nazi Germany during World War II. The film depicts the 20 July plot by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to use the Operation Valkyrie national emergency plan to take control of the country. Valkyrie was directed by Bryan Singer under the American studio United Artists, and the film stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the key plotters. Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are also featured as fellow plotters.

Cruise's casting caused controversy among German politicians and members of the von Stauffenberg family because of the actor's practice of Scientology, which is viewed with suspicion in the country. German newspapers and filmmakers supported the film to spread global awareness of von Stauffenberg's plot. The filmmakers initially had difficulty setting up filming locations in Germany due to the controversy, but they were later given leeway to film in locations pertaining to the film's story, such as Berlin's historic Bendlerblockmarker.

The film changed release dates several times, from as early as June 27, 2008 to as late as February 14, 2009. The changing calendar and poor response to United Artists's initial marketing campaign drew criticism about the studio's viability. After a positive test screening, Valkyrie s release in North America was ultimately changed to December 25, 2008. United Artists renewed its marketing campaign to reduce its focus on Cruise and to highlight Singer's credentials. The film has received mixed reviews in the United States. It opened commercially in Germany on January 22, 2009, where reports were mixed about the German reception of the film. To date, Valkyrie has grossed a total of over $200 million worldwide.

Plot

During World War II, Wehrmacht Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is serving with the 10th Panzer Division in Tunisiamarker. Although he makes no secret of his hatred for Nazism, Stauffenberg continues to serve his country with distinction. However, a pair of British P-40 Warhawks strafe his unit, during which the Colonel is severely wounded and evacuated to Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, Abwehr Major General Henning von Tresckow (Branagh) attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler by concealing a bomb in a bottle of Cointreau and smuggling it aboard the Führer's airplane. The bomb, however, fails to detonate and Tresckow discreetly retrieves it to conceal his actions. Upon returning to the Bendlerblockmarker, however, Tresckow learns that the Gestapo has arrested Major General Hans Oster. Commenting that the German Resistance will need a new logistics chief, Tresckow orders General Friedrich Olbricht (Nighy) to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, having lost his eye, right hand, and two fingers on his left hand, Stauffenberg catches the attention of Olbricht at a military hospital. When the General approaches him, Stauffenberg states that during his months of recovery, he realized that destroying Hitler was the only way to honorably serve Germanymarker. As a result, Tresckow and Olbricht deliver him to a meeting of the committee which has arranged all previous attempts on Hitler's life. The leaders are Colonel General Ludwig Beck (Stamp), Dr. Carl Goerdeler (McNally), and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben (Schofield). The Colonel is stunned to learn that no plans exist for after Hitler's assassination.

Later, during an Allied bombing raid, Stauffenberg remembers the emergency plan known as Operation Valkyrie, which involves the deployment of the Reserve Army to maintain order in a state of emergency. The plotters carefully redraft the plan so that, after killing Hitler, they can stage a coup d'etat by disarming and arresting the SSmarker and the Party elite. The committee, however, reminds Stauffenberg that only Reserve Army Colonel General Friedrich Fromm (Wilkinson) can initiate Valkyrie. Commenting that Fromm is an amoral careerist, General Beck orders them to buy his loyalty with a promise of promotion and power in the new regime.

When Fromm is approached, Stauffenberg and Olbricht offer him a position as head of the Wehrmacht in a post-Nazi Germany. Instead of denouncing them, Fromm comments that he always comes out on the right side of any situation. If Hitler is killed, therefore, he will gladly support the Resistance in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, the rewritten plan requires approval by Adolf Hitler (Bamber) himself. Therefore, Stauffenberg visits the Führer at his Berghof estate. In the presence of his inner circle, Hitler describes Stauffenberg as the ideal German officer and approves the plan without fully examining the changes.

At Dr. Goerdeler's insistence, Stauffenberg is ordered to not assassinate Hitler unless Heinrich Himmler is also present. At a final briefing, Abwehr Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim (Berkel) instructs Stauffenberg in the use of British pencil detonators. Stauffenberg also persuades General Erich Fellgiebel (Izzard), who controls all communications at Wolf's Lairmarker, to cut off communications at the right moment.

On July 15, 1944, Stauffenberg attends a strategy meeting at Wolf's Lair with a bomb in his briefcase. However, Himmler is not present and Stauffenberg does not receive permission to arm the bomb until it is too late. Meanwhile, the Reserve Army is mobilized by Olbricht to stand by. With no action taken, Stauffenberg safely extracts himself and the bomb from the bunker and the Reserve Army is ordered to stand down, under the impression all they have done is participate in a training exercise.

Enraged, Stauffenberg goes to the committee to protest the incompetence of Goerdeler, who has been selected to be Chancellor of Germany after the coup. When Goerdeler demands that Stauffenberg be replaced, Beck and Witzleben inform him that the Gestapomarker is searching for him and implore him to go into hiding.

On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg and his adjutant, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften (Parker), return to the Wolf's Lair. While Haeften waits with a getaway car, Stauffenberg leaves the briefcase at the meeting inside an open air summer barrack, as opposed to the command bunker. With the bomb armed, Col. Stauffenberg leaves the barrack. When the bomb explodes, he is certain that Hitler is dead, bluffs his way past a checkpoint, and departs from a nearby airfield. Before shutting down communications, Fellgiebel calls Mertz about the explosion but because of static, cannot clearly convey whether or not the Führer is dead.

As Stauffenberg flies back to Berlin, Olbricht refuses to mobilize the Reserve Army until it is confirmed that Hitler is dead. Frustrated, Mertz forges Olbricht's signature and issues the orders anyway. With Operation Valkyrie underway, Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters order the arrest of Nazi Party leaders and SS officers and begin to take control of Berlin's government quarter. Rumors reach Berlin that Hitler survived the blast, but Stauffenberg dismisses them as SS propaganda. Meanwhile, Fromm learns from Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel that Hitler is still alive and refuses to join the plotters, resulting in his arrest. When Hitler himself reaches Reserve Army leader Otto Ernst Remer by telephone, Remer orders the SS officers released and besieges Stauffenberg's allies inside the Bendlerblock. Stauffenberg and the other ringleaders are arrested.

In an attempt to save himself from being charged with involvement, Fromm promptly tries and sentences the men to death with the exception of Beck, who receives a pistol to commit suicide. As the other leaders are executed by firing squad in the courtyard, the film flashes forward to reveal the fates of the other major characters (most of whom perished soon after or following the war). Fromm's treachery, it is revealed, did not save him, as his actions went against Hitler's orders to deliver the plotters to him alive.

When Stauffenberg's turn arrives, he shouts, "Long live sacred Germany," moments before the bullets tear into him. As the light drains from his eye(s), the film flashes back to Stauffenberg's last farewell to his wife and children.

Cast

  • Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the Wehrmacht Colonel who was instrumental in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bryan Singer saw von Stauffenberg as "very much a humanist", saying, "He understood his role as a colonel, but he also understood that the Nazis were doing terrible, terrible, terrible things." Having directed Superman Returns, Singer compared von Stauffenberg's dual identity as loyal colonel and conspirator to Superman and his civilian identity Clark Kent. Cruise had wanted to work with Singer since they met at the premiere for Mission: Impossible, and the actor was enticed by the script's background, the truth of which struck him as a surprise. The actor described von Stauffenberg's heroism, "I thought of it in terms of what [von] Stauffenberg represents. He was someone who realized that he had to take the steps that ultimately cost him his life... He recognized what was at stake." Cruise felt von Stauffenberg did not think of himself as a hero. The actor prepared for the role for eight months by hiring a researcher, studying history books, and speaking with some of von Stauffenberg's family. Since von Stauffenberg lost his left eye, right hand and two fingers on his left hand in an Allied attack in Tunisia, Cruise affected the same disabilities to practice dressing, moving items and writing. Cruise initially found the eyepatch difficult to work with but acknowledged that von Stauffenberg had to live with this discomfort.
  • Kenneth Branagh plays Major General Henning von Tresckow. Branagh differed physically from the real Tresckow, who was balding, but Singer said, "[I]f you look at Tresckow's energy, he had an honesty that Branagh has."
  • Bill Nighy portrays General Friedrich Olbricht. Nighy was cast to give a sympathetic quality, so Olbricht would not be the "fall guy". Nighy wanted to convey Olbricht as divided between complaining about Hitler's regime and actually doing something about it. The actor described his portrayal, "One of the most disconcerting things imaginable is to put on a Nazi uniform. It's so associated with evil that it took me several days to get used to being in costume."
  • Terence Stamp portrays Colonel General Ludwig Beck. Singer met Stamp to discuss playing a part in X-Men, having admired him for portraying General Zod in Superman II. Stamp endured the Blitz as a child and aided Singer in staging a scene where the von Stauffenbergs hide from the Allied bombings. The actor described his approach to portraying Beck: "There has to be a kind of non-judgmental discernment, so when I'm playing villains, they don't think they're particularly villains." The actor sought to find "the part of Terence that would be prepared to fall on his sword for certain ideals".
  • Tom Wilkinson portrays Colonel General Friedrich Fromm, head of Germany's Reserve Army. Wilkinson was cast to make the treacherous Fromm sympathetic.
  • Carice van Houten portrays von Stauffenberg's wife, Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg. The filmmakers were impressed by her performance in Black Book, and argued she could give a strong performance with minimal dialogue. Screenwriter Nathan Alexander spoke to von Stauffenberg's relatives and noted that, although Nina and Claus never directly spoke about the plot, "in a sense it was all they talked about".
  • Kevin McNally portrays Dr. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a German politician who intends to become chancellor of Germany after a successful coup.
  • David Schofield portrays Erwin von Witzleben, a retired Field Marshal and one of the plotters. Singer and McQuarrie were impressed by Schofield's professionalism and dedication to show up on set for scenes without his character, and the filmmakers expanded his role as a result.
  • Christian Berkel portrays Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim, a plotter with knowledge of explosives.
  • Jamie Parker portrays Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, an adjutant to von Stauffenberg who helps the colonel carry out the plot.
  • Eddie Izzard portrays General Erich Fellgiebel, a German officer responsible for communications at Hitler's bunker Wolf's Lairmarker.
  • David Bamber portrays Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Germany. During Bamber's audition for the role, Singer was struck by Bamber's eyes and stated that Bamber had a quality that resonated with Hitler.
  • Thomas Kretschmann portrays Major Otto Ernst Remer, commanding officer of Großdeutschland guard battalion. Kretschmann was the original choice to play von Stauffenberg before Singer joined the production, when McQuarrie was intending to direct.
  • Harvey Friedman portrays Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and a member of Hitler's inner circle.
  • Kenneth Cranham portrays Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the head of the OKW and a member of Hitler's inner circle.
  • Matthias Freihof portrays Heinrich Himmler, the head of Schutzstaffelmarker and a member of Hitler's inner circle.
  • Philipp von Schulthess portrays Major General Henning von Tresckow's aide. Von Schulthess is the grandson of Claus von Stauffenberg.


Other portrayals of Nazis included Gerhard Haase-Hindenberg as Hermann Göring, Anton Algrang as Albert Speer, Werner Daehn as Major Ernst John von Freyend, Waldemar Kobus as Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, Tom Hollander as Colonel Heinz Brandt, Helmut Stauss as Dr. Roland Freisler, Matthew Burton as Lieutenant-General Adolf Heusinger, Bernard Hill as a General working with Stauffenberg in Tunisiamarker, and Ian McNeice as the composite "Pompous General" who attempts to disrupt the coup headquarters. Though the general is not named in the film, McQuarrie and Alexander said the character was based on General Joachim von Kortzfleisch, who tried to disrupt the coup in the same fashion. Patrick Wilson was originally cast in Valkyrie, but he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and other unspecified reasons. Stephen Fry was also offered a role in the film but was unable to participate.

Some of the non-German actors initially experimented with German accents, but Singer discarded the idea, instead instructing them to adopt neutral accents that "[wouldn't] distract from the story". Singer added he was not making a docu-drama and wanted to make the story engaging.

Production

Development

In 2002, Christopher McQuarrie visited Berlinmarker while researching another project and visited the memorial to von Stauffenberg at the Bendlerblockmarker. Researching the July 20 plot, he was moved and fascinated by the fact that the conspirators were fully aware of what would happen if they failed their assassination attempt, and he wanted to make their story more well-known. He approached Nathan Alexander to co-write the film, and Alexander began researching the project. McQuarrie sought to model the story after the 2001 TV film Conspiracy, which depicted the Wannsee Conferencemarker at which the Nazis planned the Final Solution. He also sought to direct the film, until he realized that adequate financing would only be secured with Bryan Singer directing.

After Singer completed the three major productions X-Men (2000), X2 (2003) and Superman Returns (2006), he sought a smaller project before embarking upon the eventually aborted sequel to Superman Returns. Singer and McQuarrie had often made World War II films in their backyards while growing up in New Jerseymarker, and Singer had later dealt with Nazi subject matter in Apt Pupil and X-Men. Singer first learned of the plot in the early 1980s when his mother visited Bonnmarker and met Freya von Moltke, widow of Helmuth von Moltke, a founder of the Kreisau Circle resistance group. After learning of McQuarrie and Alexander's screenplay and signing on to direct, Singer read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer to gain deeper understanding of Nazi Germany's political landscape, and also met with one of Hitler's bodyguards, Rochus Misch, who was the last person to leave the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. The creative team acknowledged the ambiguity over the enigmatic von Stauffenberg's true motivation, but Singer and McQuarrie judged him to be a man of ethics just from what he did. Though McQuarrie sought for Valkyrie to be similar to Conspiracy, Singer had bigger ambitions for the film, wanting it to be more than "old men in rooms, talking". Singer looked back on his decision, saying, "The true story had all the makings of a classic assassination thriller... I knew if I could keep the audience with [von] Stauffenberg, with his mission, they would go with the flow and be less inclined to start hypothesising on things from history."

McQuarrie suggested they bring the project to United Artists partners Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise, who immediately agreed to finance the film in March 2007. Singer invited Tom Cruise to take the lead role, which Cruise accepted. Cruise had been provided a picture of von Stauffenberg, in which the actor noticed a similarity in his profile with the German colonel, drawing him to the role. The director and the screenwriter initially anticipated Valkyrie as a "small" film with a budget of under US$20 million and to be completed within several months, but Cruise's interest in playing von Stauffenberg made Singer realize his involvement could broaden the film's publicity and therefore its budget. The film's budget was then raised to $60 million. The director considered calling the film Operation Valkyrie, not wanting to use a generic action film title. The film's English-language title was ultimately titled Valkyrie because Singer felt that the film was about more than the operation and liked its connection to Wagner's music.
Bendlerblock, where the conspirators were executed in real life, was originally denied as a filming location for Valkyrie
Germany's Finance Ministry had originally denied the producers the right to film at Bendlerblock, explaining that the site should be treated as a "place of remembrance and mourning" which would "lose dignity if we were to exploit it as a film set". The producers were also denied a request to film at a Berlin police station by the department, citing adverse impact to the facility. The German government eventually had a change of heart concerning the Bendlerblock site and gave permission for filmmakers to shoot there. A United Artists spokesman said that they were "very grateful" for the decision, saying that the site "[had] always been important to us symbolically, creatively and for the sake of historical authenticity" and that the company had been in continuous talks with the German government in order to clear up any misconceptions about the nature of the film. The Memorial to the German Resistancemarker also helped filmmakers by permitting them access to their materials and documents. German military pageantry was shaped by referring to the recorded material and input from military advisers.

Writing

McQuarrie and Alexander researched first-hand accounts, photos, newsreels and texts. They also examined Gestapomarker and SSmarker records, as the organizations had been meticulous in reconstructing the events of the conspiracy in its aftermath. A timeline of events was created, from which McQuarrie and Alexander shaped the script. After production began in Berlin, the writers were able to visit locations and meet with relatives of the conspirators; these meetings informed changes made to the script during filming.

The initial scenes of von Stauffenberg in Tunisiamarker were written to provide historical context to the rest of the film. The scenes were written with the intention of communicating the complexity of the situation—including references to the Holocaust—without being too obvious. The writers also wanted to evoke the spirit of the resistance and convey the ongoing disgust of the German officers. McQuarrie and Alexander found the most difficult task was in conveying the motives of the conspirators; von Stauffenberg especially remained an enigma, though the writers believed he and the other resistance members to be propelled by their moral outrage. McQuarrie and Alexander attempted to include a scene of von Stauffenberg's witnessing an atrocity, but because he was a supply officer he had little exposure to many of those that occurred. Though he witnessed some—such as the starvation of the Russians—they believed it difficult to dramatize von Stauffenberg's being compelled to action by "field reports". They also had difficulties with Hitler's portrayal; in researching his speeches, they struggled to find one in which he made overtly villainous statements.

Filming

Filming began on July 18, 2007 in Berlinmarker. Production of Valkyrie was then estimated to have a budget of US$80 million, with two-thirds to be spent in Germany. The German Federal Film Fund issued 4.8 million (US$6.64 million) to United Artists to assist with production. The filmmakers received permission to film at Tempelhof International Airportmarker's Columbia Haus, a former Nazi jail for political prisoners. Production also involved World War II planes with swastikas painted on the sides, practicing in the airspace above Brandenburgmarker. Around 70 sets were built for the film. The filmmakers also shot on location at the former Reich Air Ministry Buildingmarker and the exterior of the house at which von Stauffenberg stayed with his brother.

A replica set of Hitler's Eastern Front Headquarters Wolf's Lairmarker was constructed 60 kilometers south of Berlin, though the headquarters' actual location was in modern-day Polandmarker. It took twelve weeks to build. Filming also took place in some of the houses that were used to hide the bombs in 1944. The interior of Hitler's Bavarianmarker residence Berghofmarker was also replicated using film shot by Hitler's consort Eva Braun and designing models of furniture possessed by secretive collectors. The production also made use of surviving Nazi relics, including furniture used by the Reich Ministrymarker and objects that once adorned Hitler's desk. Nazi symbols, the display of which is heavily restricted in Germany, were also used at several locations, and while the filmmakers gave forewarnings to local residents, a passerby witnessing the use of swastikas during filming in Berlin filed an official complaint with the city. Similar charges have also been filed against the owners of sites set up to show Nazi displays for the film's production. Filming also took place at Babelsberg Studiosmarker. During filming on August 19, 2007, eleven people were hurt when the side panel of a truck they were riding broke, with one person requiring hospitalization. They demanded $11 million in compensation, rejecting a settlement offered by the studio.

Before filming the scene of von Stauffenberg's execution at Bendlerblock, Tom Cruise led the cast and crew in holding a moment of silence, "out of respect for the place and out of respect for the life achievement of these people who were executed there," according to actor Christian Berkel. After filming of the scene was completed, the footage was sent to be developed for the post-production process at a processing plant in Germany. The wrong chemical was accidentally used in development, damaging the film and requiring the crew to seek permission from the government to re-shoot the scenes. Permission was granted and a spokesman for the film indicated the schedule and budget had not been affected.

Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel chose different styles for the separate halves of the film. Elegant camerawork such as cranes were used as the plot builds to the attempt on Hitler's life, and the second half is frantic with handheld cinematography as the plotters are hunted down. The colors in the film also become more intense as the story continues. Sigel focused on red, the color of the Nazi flag, which he felt represented the violence of their ideology. Singer looked towards thrillers of the 1940s and home movies shot by Eva Braun for inspiration. Shooting scenes at night was difficult because presenting historical accuracy of the era required blackout. Sigel noted in real life, car headlights were used for the firing squad to aim at and execute the plotters in the Bendlerblock. Singer chose to shoot in 1:85 aspect ratio, and since filming took place in Germany, the director used Arriflex cameras with Zeiss lenses.

The Tunisiamarker battle sequence that opened the film was the last major sequence filmed. The filmmakers wanted to avoid the appearance that von Stauffenberg wanted to kill Hitler because of the injuries he suffered in the battle. They began a rough cut in October 2007, and between then and June 2008, there were several test screenings without the battle sequence. By June 2008, the filmmakers felt that they knew how to adequately frame the characters when filming the battle sequence. Singer scouted Jordanmarker and Spainmarker for locations, but the candidates did not meet the aesthetic and economic criteria. The Cougar Buttes desert in Californiamarker was ultimately chosen to represent Tunisia. Since the production budget was adjusted to provide visual effects to make von Stauffenberg's injuries realistic, not enough was left for solely computer-generated fighter planes. Singer instead used two P-40 Warhawk in the battle sequence. The budget increased in the course of production due to the filming in Germany, the rebuilding of sets, and lost shooting days, but German tax rebates tempered the growth. The studio reported its final production budget to be $75 million, but competing studios believed it to be closer to $90 million.

Visual effects

The film's visual effects were created by Sony Pictures Imageworks, who collaborated with Bryan Singer on Superman Returns. The VFX company's two key goals were to accurately portray von Stauffenberg's injuries and to create a 1943 period look to Berlin. With many explosions and stunts seen in the film performed practically, the majority of the 800 computer-generated effects shots were used to portray von Stauffenberg's injuries. A digital version of Cruise's hand was designed, and VFX employees rotoscoped the hand in every movement it could make so the missing fingers were erased in the process. With many close-ups of von Stauffenberg's hand with missing fingers, the injuries were textured to look like actual scars, particularly based on surgical procedures from 1943. Cruise asked for advice on how to best move his hands so visual effects would be easier to apply, but some challenges, such as von Stauffenberg getting dressed on his own, were inescapable. According to VFX supervisor Rich Hoover, "We know from historical accounts that von Stauffenberg didn't stick his hands in his pockets to try and hide his injuries."

For the battle sequence in North Africa, the two actual P-40 Warhawks used were accompanied by cloned images of them or by computer-generated planes. In scenes showing squadrons of soldiers, digital extras were not used; instead, photography of real squadrons was cloned. Sony Pictures Imageworks also digitally expanded details on stage locations and at practical locations. The exterior of Hitler's Bavarian residence Berghof was digitally created, since little was left of the original structure, and the creation was superimposed on a shot of a ski area in Austriamarker. In Berlin itself, city officials helped reduce the need for visual effects by removing power poles and modern lighting over the weekend when filming took place and restoring the equipment by the start of the new week.

Editing and scoring

As with his previous collaborations with Bryan Singer on The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and X2, editor and composer John Ottman edited the film without a temp track, noting if the film was working well without music, it was becoming a strong product. Since Valkyrie drew its inspirations from previous World War II films like The Great Escape (1963), Where Eagles Dare (1968), Patton (1970), and Midway (1976), filmmakers initially had a cut where title card introduced characters and their roles. When the cut was test screened with an American audience, the title cards were removed due to complaints that there were too many characters to follow.

Ottman said the challenge on Valkyrie was to create tension from dialogue scenes, and he often reshaped scenes to do this: moments rather than whole scenes were cut from the film. Being historically accurate meant Ottman was more restricted in reorganizing scenes, but he was able to choose what lines and close-ups he could focus on. Ottman said the scene he was most saddened to delete was a scene where von Stauffenberg dances with his wife because he had been looking forward to scoring it.

Ottman originally planned to compose a minimal score to Valkyrie, but found that despite the film's dialogue-heavy nature, the film needed music to create a thriller atmosphere. Ottman described the new approach, "It's very much like Usual Suspects – in order to keep the tension going in a scene where there's really a lot of dialogue, we had to rely on a lot of score. But the score is done in a very sort of pulsating, subliminal way. It's not an expository score, it's more like a running pulse going through the movie." Singer applied an imaginary metronome, "which only began clicking" when he watched scenes where the pace was becoming faster. He had a specific theme he wanted for the film, which was more modern than the "The Winds of War"-type score he expected Ottman to do. Another challenge in composing thriller music was that the score needed to "slowly lapse" into the tragedy of the film's ending. The finished score has some percussion instruments and few brass, but no snare drums or trumpets, which were the conventions Singer and Ottman avoided.

Ottman had to compose music for the North African battle before the scene was shot, because booking space to record film music is difficult. Although he found that composing music based on the script results in overlong pieces, he felt the music worked out fine for the sequence. The film's end credits piece, "They'll Remember You", is an original composition, but the lyrics were based on the poem Wanderer's Nightsong by German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. An end piece entitled "Long Live Sacred Germany" was inspired by Adagio for Strings, in the sense it would not feel like film music tailored to every moment in the scene, but still fit with what was going on. Ottman described the original version of the track as a "three minute drone that I slowed down with these two Tuvan throat singers, the whole thing was this horribly dark, morbid piece [which] left you cold." Ottman composed a metallic motif for Hitler, which was formed by low strings and a piano cluster.

Germans' response to production

In June 2007, prior to production, a German Defense Ministry spokesperson said that filming of Valkyrie would not be allowed at the country's military sites if protagonist Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was portrayed by Tom Cruise, due to the actor's adherence to Scientology, which is regarded as a dangerous cult by the German authorities. The spokesperson further indicated that the ministry had not at that time received official filming requests from Valkyrie's producers. Colonel von Stauffenberg's son also voiced concerns over Cruise's portrayal of his father, saying that he would not oppose the film's production, but hoped that Cruise would drop the role. "I fear that only terrible kitsch will come out of the project. It's bound to be rubbish," Berthold Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg said. "Cruise should keep his hands off my father." Later in the month, the ministry reversed its stance and welcomed production of Valkyrie. The initial controversy reportedly stemmed from German member of parliament Antje Blumenthal, an authority on cults for the Christian Democratic Union and well-known opponent of Scientology, who had claimed that the German Defense Minister had assured her that the film would not be shot in the country. In addition, Cruise was attacked by junior politicians such as Rudolf Köberle, the state secretary for interior issues in the state of Baden-Württembergmarker, who also cited Cruise's affiliation with Scientology. Thomas Gandow, a spokesperson for the German Protestant Church, said Cruise's involvement in the film would "have the same propaganda advantages for Scientology as the 1936 Olympics had for the Nazis" and compared the actor to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.


 The film subsequently found local support in Germany. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck saw that Cruise's involvement would promote awareness of a neglected story, and veteran German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl also gave his support to the production. A grandson of Colonel von Stauffenberg, who appeared in the film as an assistant, hailed Cruise's professionalism and indicated that most of his family were curious to see the finished product. In September 2007, when the Defense Ministry initially denied permission for filming at the Bendlerblockmarker memorial, support for the film came in from German newspaper columnists and filmmakers, including director Wolfgang Petersen and Frank Schirrmacher, journalist and co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Schirrmacher visited the set and agreed that the film would advance global awareness of the German Resistance. Ultimately granting access to the Bendlerblock after reviewing the script, the Defense Ministry said it showed that "barbarism didn't triumph but led to the founding of a democratic Germany". Ursula Caberta, who is in charge of a German government office which monitors Scientology, was disappointed in the ministry's decision, saying, "Tom Cruise [is] a figurehead of an anti-constitutional organization, and he should be treated that way."


A spokesperson for Scientology in Berlin, Sabine Weber, said in August 2007 that she was "shocked" by German politicians' criticisms, adding that it was a "call to discrimination" against someone based on their religious beliefs. In the same month, Cruise suggested to his critics that they see the film before denouncing it. In October 2007, fellow Valkyrie actor Kenneth Branagh said that the issue had been "largely exaggerated" and that the German official who initially incited the complaints contacted the production one week into filming to apologize, after reading the script and realizing he had misinterpreted the film's plot.

In November 2007, the head of the German Resistance Memorial Centermarker warned against any potential "myth formation" around von Stauffenberg as a result of the film, urging that any understanding of the Colonel must also be informed by the fact that he had been loyal to the Nazi cause for most of his military career. In the same month Cruise was given a Bambi courage award, presented by German media company Hubert Burda Media, "for tackling a story that had never been covered by Hollywood before".

Marketing

Valkyrie was intended to be a high-profile film that would jump-start United Artists, the host studio partly owned by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Pressure was placed on Valkyrie to do well since an earlier United Artists film featuring Cruise, Lions for Lambs, performed poorly in the box office, and the studio's planned production of Oliver Stone's Pinkville was canceled. The film changed release dates multiple times. It was originally slated to be released in August 8, 2008, then moved up earlier to June 27, 2008. The film was then held off to October 3, 2008 to avoid competition from WALL-E and Wanted, and to enable the late filming of the North African battle sequence. The October date was also originally chosen to increase the film's chances of awards success. In April 2008, the release date was pushed back to February 13, 2009, with the studio citing the early fall schedule as too crowded with Academy Award prospects. Valkyrie would have taken advantage of the lucrative President's Day weekend, after The Wolfman and The Pink Panther 2 were moved from this date.

In July 2008, United Artists president of worldwide marketing Dennis Rice was replaced by Michael Vollman, who was tasked to develop a marketing strategy for the "troubled" Valkyrie, which had been "battered by constant media sniping". Under Vollman, by August 2008, the release date was changed to December 26, 2008 with reports citing commercial reasons for the move after a successful test screening. (The film was ultimately released on Christmas Day, December 25, 2008.) The release date was before the end of December, which "crucially" helped the film with a home distribution deal with the subscription channel Showtime. In the same month of August, Paula Wagner left her position with the studio during the film's post-production. The changing release date for Valkyrie drew criticism about the viability of United Artists, and the studio aimed to combat the criticism leading up to the film's eventual release. In addition, the first theatrical trailer, released early in 2008, received "mixed buzz" over Tom Cruise's portraying von Stauffenberg with an American accent. The trade paper Variety described the trailer as "dour and ... like it was selling a talky stage play with a cast of old British actors". Images of Tom Cruise as Colonel von Stauffenberg that surfaced during filming were widely ridiculed. Terry Press, a marketing consultant with the studio, said that Valkyrie had been wrongly labeled as "the Tom Cruise eye-patch movie".

As the December release date approached, United Artists launched a campaign to reform public perception of the film, downplaying the role of Tom Cruise as a German war hero and instead pitching Valkyrie as "a character-driven suspense thriller". The new campaign also played up the reputation of director Bryan Singer, who had directed the thrillers The Usual Suspects (1995) and Apt Pupil (1998). Terry Press urged foregoing an awards campaign for the film; Cruise agreed with the consultant, while Singer was disappointed about the decision. Instead, the studio focused on audience appeal in a competitive time frame in late December. A second theatrical trailer and a new poster were unveiled in October 2008 by United Artists to renew Valkyrie's viability with audiences and accolades. The poster was designed to have flashy graphics and to emulate the posters from the war films The Great Escape (1963) and The Dirty Dozen (1967) in having a team as a central visual. The team element was based on market research from the studio's focus groups who indicated that they liked Cruise as "a character leading a group of people toward solving a problem". The new trailer accentuated action, and was widely considered an improvement over the first trailer. An internal MGM memo reported the reception of the trailer by online communities to be "significantly favorable" compared to the previous trailer. The studio sought two demographic quadrants: males over 35 years old as well as younger males. Since United Artists reported that the film cost $75 million to make and that $60 million was spent on marketing, the studio faced high financial stakes. The film also tested the determination of its distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the mettle of Cruise as a superstar.

Release

Theatrical run

Prior to Valkyrie s December 2008 release, concern was raised about how the film would be received in the holiday season due to its Nazi subject matter, along with related films The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader, Defiance and Good. The Advertising Age wrote during the economic crisis of 2008, "The depressing state of the economy and an alarmingly low level of understanding of the Holocaust among American youth point to a tough road for such serious fare."

Valkyrie opened on Christmas Day, December 25, 2008 in 2,711 theaters in the United States and Canada. The film grossed an estimated $8.5 million for the opening day. In the four day holiday weekend, Valkyrie grossed an estimated $30 million, ranking fourth at the box office with $7,942 per theater. Pamela McClintock of Variety cited the weekend performance as "a victory for United Artists and MGM"; Gitesh Pandya of Rotten Tomatoes said the haul represented a "big hit" for the studio. Studio research revealed that audiences averaged 55% male and 66% over 25. Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers, said that the weekend gross "totally robs the nay-sayers of their ability to deem it a flop", believing that Cruise's comic performance in the previous summer's Tropic Thunder helped audiences embrace the star again. Dergarabedian also ascribed the better-than-expected performance to the studio's marketing of Valkyrie as a thriller film. Since Cruise was collecting a salary of $20 million against 20% of the backend (revenue gathered after the completion of a film) and MGM/UA investment was capped at $60 million, United Artists sold the film to several foreign territories to make money back.

The European premiere was held at the Potsdamer Platzmarker in Berlinmarker on January 20, 2009. Valkyrie commercially opened in over a dozen territories outside the United States and Canada on the weekend of January 23, 2009, including a premiere in Germany on January 22. The film ranked first in the international box office, grossing over $13 million. It placed first in Germany, Australia, and Holland and placed second in the United Kingdom, Austria and South Korea. Valkyrie s highest-grossing territory was Germany, where it earned $3.7 million from 689 locations, averaging $5,311 per screen. The German opening was considered "a chart-topping yet unspectacular start", barely edging out Twilight, which opened three weeks before. BBC News reported that the premiere of the film has renewed the topic of the German Resistance among the German populace.

The film opened in 13 additional territories on the weekend of January 30, including Russia and Spain. With 3,600 screenings in 26 markets, the film grossed $18.6 million to maintain its top placement at the international box office for a second weekend in a row. Spain was its highest-grossing territory with $2.8 million, followed by Germany with $2.3 million, the United Kingdom with $2 million, and $1.9 million in Italy. As of April 13, 2009, the film has grossed $83,079,000 in the United States and Canada and an estimated $117,198,951 in other territories for a worldwide gross of $200,276,784.

Anti-Scientology protests

A masked protester with a sign saying "Tom Cruise Cult Hero" at the London premiere is confronted by an unidentified woman who attempts to forcibly wrestle the sign from her grasp.
When Valkyrie premiered in New York Citymarker on December 15, 2008, it was shown in a private screening room at the Time Warner Centermarker, rather than at a Lincoln Square theater. The venue was chosen in part to minimize the exposure to Scientology protesters gathered at the Time Warner Center. Protesters also appeared at the December 18 Los Angelesmarker screening, where Cruise entered through a tunnel. While the US "red carpet" was held in private, Cruise interacted with fans in South Korea and Europe. There were small anti-Scientology protests at the European premiere in Berlin, where Cruise signed one protester's Guy Fawkes mask. Anti-Scientology protests also occurred at the Londonmarker premiere, and Amsterdammarker where Scientologists in the crowd engaged the protesters. The NTV news report about the January 26 Moscowmarker premiere noted that journalists had to sign a document promising not to ask questions about Scientology, and their questions would be censored; to this, the reporter remarked, "You can't help getting reminded of those historic times depicted in Operation Valkyrie."

In Germany, authorities and politicians expressed concern that if the film was successful, it would boost Scientology in the country. German politician Michael Brand encouraged his deputies to boycott Valkyrie, saying that Scientology pursued "totalitarian goals". Germany's Agency for the Protection of the Constitutionmarker (BfV), which monitors the presence of Scientology in the country, expressed concern about the film's impact. An anonymous BfV official said, "These Scientologists have two goals in Germany... to get their message to children, and make their organization respectable. The film does both: it has put a top Scientologist at the center of a national debate about German history."

Home media

Valkyrie was released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 19, 2009 in three configurations: a single DVD edition, a two-DVD set, and a Blu-ray version. Valkyrie opened at #2 on the DVD sales chart, selling 844,000 units translating to revenue of $14,816,833. According to the latest figures, 1,533,200 units have been sold, bringing in $25,790,070 in revenue.

Critical reception

The movie website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 61% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based upon a sample of 171, with an average score of 6.0/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 56 based on 36 reviews. In the United States, the film received mixed reviews from critics. In Germany, there were different reports about how Valkyrie was received. The New York Times wrote, "It has been greeted with a measured and hospitable reception in Germany, where it was once viewed with suspicion." The trade paper Variety reported that despite the controversy over Cruise's ties to Scientology, "[I]nitial reviews have been positive, with many observers now hailing Cruise and predicting the pic will even improve the country’s image abroad." Der Spiegel said that the film and its supporting actors were praised, but that Cruise was panned by German critics for "a surprisingly low-key performance that fails to convey the charisma with which Stauffenberg inspired fellow plotters". The AFP also said that the German critics "savaged Tom Cruise's portrayal" of von Stauffenberg, yet "relished a homegrown hero getting the Hollywood treatment."

American critics

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times thought that Cruise gave "a fine, typically energetic performance in a film that requires nothing more of him than a profile and vigor" but that von Stauffenberg was too complex a character to adequately portray in a film designed as a thriller. Dargis also wrote of the director's excess, "Though Mr. Singer’s old-fashioned movie habits, his attention to the gloss, gleam and glamour of the image, can be agreeably pleasurable, he tends to gild every lily," citing as an example the "spooky music" and "low camera angles" in the meeting between Hitler and von Stauffenberg. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times also found Cruise "perfectly satisfactory, if not electrifying, in the leading role", believing that the portrayal fit the "veterans of officer rank" that would not panic under fire; Ebert recognizes that "Singer... works heroically to introduce us to the major figures in the plot, to tell them apart, to explain their roles and to suggest their differences."

Ty Burr of The Boston Globe described the film: "It's a smooth, compelling, almost suspenseful... and slightly hollow Hollywood period piece - a World War II action-drama in which an intriguing (but not electrifying) star performance is buttressed by stellar support." Burr analyzed Cruise's performance: "...his Claus von Stauffenberg is an honorable conception that's ultimately too thin to fully rise up from the pages of history. This story deserves to be told, but for reasons best known to himself, the star has latched onto a strictly Nietzschean interpretation that he rides into the ground." Claudia Puig of USA Today thought of Cruise as "unconvincing and stiff as the disenchanted" von Stauffenberg. She felt that the film started slowly and that "even during scenes of intense action, the visually slick production is only minimally engrossing". She concluded of the film's overall pace, "The action becomes more engrossing during the film's second half, but one expects more depth and nuance, given its pedigree." Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote, "[Cruise] carries the movie, although, once you dig beneath the uniform, there isn’t much for him to get a handle on; the fascination with Stauffenberg resides in what he did, not in who he was." Lane thought that there was "too much" character acting of the British veteran actors and felt of the casting of Nighy, Stamp, and Wilkinson, "These men are meant to be battle-toughened Nazi officers, but what we get is an array of discreetly amusing studies in mild neurosis."

Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote that Valkyrie "has visual splendor galore, but is a cold work lacking in the requisite tension and suspense". McCarthy considered Cruise as "a bit stiff but still adequate" as von Stauffenberg. The critic believed that McQuarrie's script was well-carpentered but felt that compressing and streamlining the events to make a known failed plot more thrilling lacked a "sufficient sizzle into the dialogue or individuality into the characters". McCarthy missed "many of the interesting personal and political nuances pertaining to these men" that were not detailed. He thought that the production design by Lilly Kilvert and Patrick Lumb stood out, that Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography had a "restrained elegance", and that John Ottman performed well in his dual role as editor and composer.

German critics

Despite differences over the quality of the film, critics were in agreement that the film had drawn attention to von Stauffenberg's cause. It was applauded "as both as a history lesson and as a film". Tobias Kniebe of the Süddeutsche Zeitung described the film as "maybe not the masterpiece we might have dreamed of ... but not much less", a sentiment shared by many German critics. The public-service German television channel ZDFmarker called Valkyrie "neither scandalously bad nor the event of the century... Neither is it the action thriller we feared, but it is a well-made and serious film." The newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger reported that any fear that the "myth of the German resistance would be put through a Hollywood filter has turned out to be wrong and prejudicial."

Other critics asserted that Tom Cruise did not "make the grade" as a German war hero. The film critic for Der Tagesspiegel wrote, "[Cruise's] image as an actor has been finally ruined by Valkyrie... [the film] doesn't dare to be popcorn cinema and at the same time lacks any conceptual brilliance." Hanns-Georg Rodek of Die Welt reported of Cruise's performance, "He comes over best as an American hero, someone who battles for respect with aggression and energy. But Stauffenberg was a German hero, with aristocratic bearing, and Cruise cannot carry that off." The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said Cruise's performance was "credible", and reserved praise for the authenticity of the dubbed German-language version of the film over the original.

Awards and honors

Valkyrie was nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for several Saturn Awards: Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Best Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Supporting Actor (Bill Nighy), Best Supporting Actress (Carice van Houten), Best Director (Bryan Singer), Best Music (John Ottman), and Best Costume (Joanna Johnston).

Historical accuracy

The Gestapomarker investigated the July 20 plot thoroughly, so filmmakers had access to much documentation as they integrated the historical account with "Hollywood factors" in producing Valkyrie. Peter Hoffmann, professor of history at McGill Universitymarker and a leading authority on the German Resistance, was a consultant for the filmmakers. Hoffmann spoke of the film's accuracy, "[Valkyrie] gives a fundamentally accurate portrait of Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators. There are details which must be counted as liberties. But, fundamentally, the film is decent, respectful and represents the spirit of the conspiracy." The Scotsman reported of the film's accuracy, "Valkyrie... sticks pretty closely to the story of the failed conspiracy to topple the Nazi regime... it implies that the plot came closer to success than it really did. But the basic facts are all present and correct."

While von Stauffenberg listens to Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" in the film, in reality the colonel hated Wagner. In addition, von Stauffenberg's elder brother Berthold was also omitted from the film. Bryan Singer purposely left out some of von Stauffenberg's "macho" moments in writing the character, such as the colonel's refusal of morphine to avoid addiction. He explained the removals, "There were things I actually left out because I knew people would think we were making them up... imagine Tom Cruise saying 'No morphine!' People would think it's a contrivance." In the film, von Haeften steps out in front of von Stauffenberg at the firing range, but when filmmakers attempted to reconstruct the scene based on eyewitness testimony and photographs, they discovered that the shots that killed von Haeften would also have killed von Stauffenberg, who was actually shot shortly after. Another alteration was to the portrayal of Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, played in the film by Kevin McNally. Goerdeler was written in the film to be antagonistic, dramatically representing the friction and conflict that existed within the conspiracy, though filmmakers considered him a "much more moral character" in reality.

British novelist Justin Cartwright, who authored the book The Song Before It Is Sung about one of the plot's conspirators, wrote, "The film is true to most of the facts of the plot, but fails to convey any sense of the catastrophic moral and political vortex into which Germans were being drawn." Though not depicted in the film, von Stauffenberg was persuaded to become involved in the plot by his uncle, Nikolaus Graf von Üxküll-Gyllenband, who was disenchanted with the Nazis. The film also did not explore von Stauffenberg's philosophy and background, which Cartwright felt fit the German tradition of Dichter und Helden ("poets and heroes").Cartwright described how von Stauffenberg was an appropriate leader for the plot: "He was the man who unmistakably wore the mantle of a near-mystic German past, a warrior Germany, a noble Germany, a poetic Germany, a Germany of myth and longing." The novelist felt that Cruise's portrayal was more akin to one as a "troublesome cop". Cartwright also noted that the film did not raise the question of what kind of Germany von Stauffenberg had in mind if the plot succeeded.

See also



References

  1. Valkyrie DVD commentary featuring Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, [2009], United Artists.
  2. As depicted in the film, Stauffenberg's wife was pregnant with Von Schulthess' mother during the events of 1944.
  3. Enter the main site and click "Navigation" to access.
  4. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2008/VALKR-DVD.php


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