Valkyrie by Bryan Singer

Some may view Valkyrie as a departure for Bryan Singer, but those who know his work best see thematic similarities running through the film. Producer Gilbert Adler, who made Superman Returns with Singer, says, “Stauffenberg is, in a way, a real-life counterpart to what we look for in cinematic heroes: an ordinary man moved to extraordinary actions. Certainly, he was very human and flawed, but I think Bryan brings out that Stauffenberg¬ís remarkable strength was all grounded in very real things: his dedication to his country, to his family, and especially to what was right.”

Atmosphere of Nazi Germany

Equally important to Singer was capturing the overall atmosphere of Nazi Germany. “Bryan is not only a filmmaker but a real history buff,” says Chris Lee, “and I think those two great passions come through in the level of detail in each frame as well as in the detail in character and emotion.”

For Singer, Valkyrie was a chance not only to take on his first true story but to also explore a period in time that has held a dark fascination for him since childhood, when his Jewish background made him acutely aware of the horrors perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazi government of Germany.

“I've always had an interest in exploring the Third Reich,” Singer says. “I touched upon it in a film I did based on a Stephen King novella (Apt Pupil), and again in the first X-Men with the concentration camp scene. But Valkyrie was a chance to segue into a realistic portrayal of that world through an extraordinary true story about a leader who was destroying a country, and much of the world, and the men who decided to try to stop it.”

German resistance

The very fact that a German resistance existed, and that it even reached into the highest ranks of the military, was something that had long heartened Singer and reminded him of the courage that can come out of basic human decency. “At a very young age, I learned there were Germans who had tried to kill Hitler,” he says. “I didn't know specifically about Stauffenberg and Olbricht, but I had heard about a bomb in a briefcase, and to me that was always a big deal, to understand that all Germans weren't Nazis. It would be devastating at such a young age to believe that the whole of a country could be filled with such hate, and it was good to know there were a few who tried to stand against it.”

Singer began doing his own research, reading extensively about every aspect of life during the Third Reich. “One of the first things I did was read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, which is an extraordinary book,” he says. “It should really be mandatory reading for anyone trying to understand how an enlightened society can transform very quickly into a killing machine. It goes into the personalities and machinations of Hitler, G??ring, Himmler, and it helped give me a deeper understanding of the world the conspirators operated inside. Before I made this movie I needed to understand not just the role of the people trying to remove Hitler, but why Hitler happened in the first place.”

Singer also met with a number of people who could give him an inside perspective. “We had private meetings with members of the Stauffenberg family,” he says. “On the other side, we met with Hitler's former bodyguard, who, I believe, was the last person to leave the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. These meetings were done specifically to bring new perspectives and ideas to the material. They were very informative, and sometimes transformational in terms of what we learned.”

All of this translated into Singer's stylistic approach to the film, which would mix nuanced period details of the Third Reich with the lightning pacing and visual dynamism of a modern thriller. Singer says, “We weren’t making a documentary. The important thing was getting the truth of the story across in the most engaging way.”

To this end, Singer made the decision early on to allow each member of the film's international cast to use his or her own accent. ¬ìI've navigated through international accents in different ways before, sometimes altering them, sometimes leaving them,” he says. “But with Valkyrie, I had a phenomenal cast playing a fascinating, and sometimes terrifying, group of characters, and I felt it would be stronger to have them use their own natural dialects. When the film begins, you're transported to this world of German soldiers in the mid-1940s, and the thing that draws you into that world are the characters, these proud military men who saw that they had a monstrous leader and felt they had to get rid of him. The first priority was allowing these characters to come through in strong and very human performances.”