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  • VALKYRIE–Brief Review

    Posted by David Foster on January 3rd, 2009 (All posts by )

    Went to see the film last Tuesday, and I agree with Lex that it is well worth seeing. Cruise does a credible job as Stauffenberg, and most of the acting is well done, although the mix of accents…a lot of American English and various flavors of English-English, plus a bit of German…was slightly bizarre. I was particularly impressed with Halina Reijn’s portrayal of a minor character, Margarethe van Oven (secretary to the conspirators.) She had almost no speaking lines, but has a wonderfully expressive face, and uses it well to portray her character’s emotions.

    One aspect of the film, though, seems to me to be unjust and historically inaccurate.

    Erich Fellgiebel, who commanded army communications, is portrayed in the film as a man who joined the conspiracy only after being browbeaten into doing so by Stauffenberg, and is also portrayed–alone among the conspirators–as showing evident terror at the time of his arrest. In essence, the film positions Fellgiebel as an unwilling conspirator and a coward. I see nothing in the historical record to justify such a portrayal. The real Fellgiebel was already involved with the conspiracy in 1939 (four years before the time period shown in the film.) Following his arrest, he behaved with exemplary courage, withstanding torture for weeks in order to protect subordinates who had not yet been arrested. At his trial, he told the judge (the loathsome Roland Freisler) that he’d better hurry up with the hangings, or he himself would hang before the accused. The real Fellgiebel has little to do with the man portrayed under his name in Valkyrie. There were plenty of real cowards in the Third Reich: it was not necessary to portray a genuinely courageous man in this way.

    This is really sort of an action movie, focused on the “what” of the events and the “who” of the individual characters–their actions and their behavior under stress–more than on the “why” of their motivations. Considerable effort was clearly made toward visual realism, with details such as Junkers trimotor transport planes and a reconstruction of a teletype-and-paper-tape-based message switching center (the 1940s equivalent of an e-mail server.) The movie succeeds in maintaining a high level of dramatic interest, even for those who are already familiar with the historical events on which it is based, and should be extremely interesting for those who do not know this story.

    Don Sensing has also reviewed this move. See also my post Oster, Stauffenberg, and Valkyrie, on the early history of the conspiracy (which all took place before the time at which the movie begins.)

    Don gives the movie 8 out of 10 stars: I’d agree with this.

    There remains an opportunity for someone to make a movie about this conspiracy which is more focused on character development and individual motivations.


    3 Responses to “VALKYRIE–Brief Review”

    1. Lexington Green Says:

      David, I agree with you on all points.

      I did not / do not know anything about the real Fellgiebel.

      “… a movie about this conspiracy which is more focused on character development and individual motivations.”

      It should be a miniseries. Maybe 6 hours, covering the rise of the Nazis, the war and then the July 20 plot, and how several characters dealt with the moral challenges, how most went along, and a few ultimately turned on the regime. With a good script, good actors, and a decent-sized budget, it could be very good.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Yeah, the miniseries format allows for much more character development than a 2-hour movie.

    3. Tom Matic IV Says:

      That’s one of the big problems when writing historical movies – your historical characters tend to either fall into representative modes and come to ‘stand for’ certain stereotypes or character traits or you end up conflating characters, events and motivations. On the historical accuracy balance sheet I’d rate Valkyrie pretty darn high given the running time, genre (historical suspense thriller) and compared with other historical movies like Zulu or A Bridge Too Far (that movie, considered quite accurate has a LOT of conflations and inaccuracies).

      From a review I wrote:

      “Goerdeler – conflated slightly with Gisevius and the part of the group which was idealistic, civilian and kind of anti-Stauffenberg

      Pompous general – supposed to be Wehrkreis III commander Joachim von Kortzfleisch but I guess they wanted to make him look more pompously over bearing and less sympathetic (and Ian McNeice is certainly one to make it work!) rather than being ‘a simple soldier who’d rather be pulling weeds in his garden’.

      Africa Korps general – probably supposed to be von Broich but he’s given a generic name and killed off. He probably represents the prior efforts of the resistance to recruit the likes of Manstein and later Rommel. I think this might have been problematic as a lot of people apparently thought he WAS Rommel!

      von Haeften – takes the roles of all the ADC’s, Klausing, etc.

      Mertz von Quirnheim – takes the roles of Stieff/Gersdorff in procuring and explaining the explosives as well as the role of Thiele in taking Fellgiebel’s call.

      Major Freyend and General Tresckow take the roles that their subordinates (Sgt.Vogler and von Schlabrendorff respectively) historically had – again for the sake of both economy of characters and making sure the lead characters are the ones who are active, rather than having a lot of active minor characters.

      The commander of the firing squad is a young officer who is introduced as General Fromm’s aide or secretary – he’s called Captain Herber in the cast list. It should have been Wachtbattalion Leutnant Rudolph Schlee. Also, Major Remer did not arrive at the Bendlerblock that evening however these are again done for the sake of character economy and to have as many of the major principals present at the climax.

      We hear references to Helmuth Stieff, Col.Linstow and General Bieler as well in the dialogue. It’s really nice to think that the writers weren’t just pulling names out of their rear ends as is the case in a lot of Hollywood historical epics.

      The movie does suffer slightly from shallower characterization than a lot hoped for but this isn’t because the actors acted poorly – to the contrary they did the best with what they got. Unfortunately, because of the demands of the genre, what they got sometimes wasn’t enough to really give us a good glimpse of their characters – I was wishing for more scenes with Witzleben, Beck and Goerdeler that would have given them more rounded characters. As it was Witzleben seems virtually irrelevant, which is tragic as he has the hands down BEST end speech during the Volksgericht trials, Beck is reduced to the ‘father figure’ who Cruise’s Stauffenberg is trying to please – a sort of conflation of Ludwig Beck and Stefan George perhaps! – but his role as Stauffenberg’s PRECURSOR, the one who would have had his finger on the trigger or the one arming the bomb in 1938, is absent. Goerdeler is reduce to the role of hostile and idealistic opponent to the practical and decisive Stauffenberg and his role as one of the key founders of the Resistance, his opposition to the Nazis over the Mendelsohn statue and his complex nature and naivete is likewise absent.”

      As a writing exercise I’m penning a novella based on the history, starting at Kristallnacht, fast forwarding to just around the fall of Stalingrad and then to the plot itself.