Based on a true story, this is about the 1944 plot to kill Hitler and the rebels’ subsequent attempt to seize control of Nazi Germany, oblivious to their failed assassination attempt.
The film starts badly with Tom Cruise’s Colonel Stauffenberg explaining his disillusionment with the Nazi regime while writing a letter, missing a perfect opportunity for a dramatic or exciting scene in which he’s forced to participate in something which finally convinces him to turn on the party.
When his battalion is attacked, he’s left with one eye, one hand, and only three fingers. A serious manual injury is something which needs to be committed to entirely to not look ridiculous. But unfortunately the absence of Cruise’s right hand is all-too-often accompanied by a suspicious bulge in his hip or an eerily CGId stump, while the loss of fingers on his left hand is pretty much forgotten for the rest of the film. The period setting looks mostly fine, but it annoyingly gives the characters English accents with the exception of Cruise (American) and the evil Nazis like Hitler and Goebbels (Harvey Friedman) who have cod German accents.
These are minor quibbles, however, as the film’s real downfall is casting Tom Cruise as a lead character we are meant to root for. To be fair to Cruise playing a guy who realises the cult he’s in is evil must have been a stretch, but since we know the plot is going to fail we really have to like the character to be invested in the consequences.
The Führer is played by David Bamber, the first person in history to be unfortunate for not looking like Hitler, and the key scene he shares with Cruise feels like a missed opportunity. Stauffenburg seeks Hitler’s signature on the new contingency plan for his death, which the conspirators have amended to suit their secret plot. Here the two could have engaged in some tense, Inglourious Basterds style verbal sparring as we wait and see if Hitler smells a rat, but instead he rambles about Wagner then signs it after barely reading it.
Given the failure of the mission is well known to all except Quentin Tarantino, the ultimate plight of the rebels depends on their personal appeal as characters. But director Bryan Singer fails to establish this in spite of an all-star cast featuring the likes of Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Eddie Izzard, Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy. And when the plan goes awry, Stauffenberg’s insistence that Hitler is dead when we know he isn’t just makes him look ridiculous that he did Nazi it coming. All of this makes for an inglorious telling of an interesting tale, which gets more wrong than it gets Reich.