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Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

The Plot Against Hitler

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As if guided by evil voices, Hitler rose remarkably from nobody artist to master of Europe, aided by timing and abetted by luck. He survived, unscathed, several plots to kill him. Valkyrie dramatizes the one that nearly hit bull's-eye, a conspiracy by German army officers and noblemen to assassinate Hitler and seize power. Again, evil luck intervened when an adjutant absent-mindedly pushed aside the exploding suitcase intended for the Fuhrer. Hitler escaped the blast, madder than ever.

Tom Cruise stars as Count von Stauffenberg, the officer who planted the bomb under Hitler's conference table. He can't help looking like TopGun's Maverick with an eye patch, but if you overlook the distraction of his presence, Valkyrie distills the essence of this true story into a gripping Hollywood thriller. Director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) capture the high-wire anxiety of conspiracy under a police state, where trust is a gamble and losing is worse than death. The settings are visually lavish and historically accurate.

Stauffenberg's motive is signaled in quick flashes: Hitler has stained the honor of Germany and its army with his bloody crimes. Director Singer choreographs Valkyrie with the precision of Leni Riefenstahl, if Hitler's favorite filmmaker had emerged from retirement to direct Mission Impossible. Not a moment is wasted. The fine British supporting cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson as the German generals that turned on their Fuhrer.
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