Valkyrie: Starring Tom Cruise

Based on a true story, Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in the suspense film VALKYRIE, a chronicle of the daring plot to eliminate one the world’s most evil tyrants, Hitler.

A proud military man, Colonel Stauffenberg is a loyal officer who loves his country but has been forced to watch with horror as the rise of Hitler has led to the events of World War II. He has continued his military service, all the while hoping someone will find a way to stop Hitler before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realizing time is running out, Stauffenberg decides he must take action himself, and in 1942, on his own initiative, attempts to persuade senior commanders in the East to confront and overthrow Hitler.

In 1943, while recovering from injuries suffered in combat, Stauffenberg joins forces with the German Resistance, a long-existing civilian anti-Hitler conspiracy comprised of men hidden inside the highest reaches of power. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler’s own emergency plan to stabilize the government in the event of his demise, Operation Valkyrie, and turn that plan on its head to remove those in power and cripple Hitler’s regime, these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government.

With everything in place, and with the future of the world, the fate of millions, and the lives of his wife and children hanging in the balance, Stauffenberg is thrust from being one of many who oppose Hitler to being the one who must kill Hitler himself.

Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) re-teams with Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie to bring to life the story of the men who led the operation to assassinate Hiltler. McQuarrie co-wrote the original screenplay with Nathan Alexander, who also serves as co-producer. The executive producers are Chris Lee, Ken Kamins, Daniel M. Snyder, Dwight C. Schar, and Mark Shapiro.

In addition to Cruise, the film’s cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Christian Berkel and Terence Stamp.
Valkyrie is produced by Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler.

The film was shot in Germany at various locations where many of the actual events occurred, including the historic Bendlerblock. Recreating the atmosphere of urgency and paranoia inside the German Resistance is a team that includes Singer’s frequent collaborators Newton Thomas Sigel (Superman Returns, X2, X-Men) as director of photography and editor/composer John Ottman (Superman Returns, X2) as well as production designers Lilly Kilvert (two-time Oscar-nominee for The Last Samurai and Legends of the Fall) and Patrick Lumb (The Omen, Flight of the Phoenix) and costume designer Joanna Johnston (Munich, Saving Private Ryan).

With Valkyrie, Singer brings those cinematic skills to a completely different kind of story, a true tale of extreme daring from inside the Nazi regime. Although the events and heroes depicted in Valkyrie are real, they share much in common with the kinds of stories and characters that have always drawn Singer’s attention.

Notes Chris Lee, an executive producer on the film and a long-time collaborator with Singer: “What always sets Bryan’s movies apart are the complexity of their characters, the emotions, and the absence of complete black and white, all married with a sense of pacing and action. Bryan¬ís ability to balance lots of intriguing characters started with The Usual Suspects and continued with the X-Men movies. Now it contributes something very powerful to the mosaic of remarkable individuals who make up Valkyrie.”

The story of Valkyrie was brought to Singer’s attention by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, a previous collaborator who won the Oscar Award for his intricately constructed screenplay for The Usual Suspects. In the winter of 2002, McQuarrie was in Berlin doing research for another project when, during a tour of the city, he came across Stauffenbergstrasse, the street named after German Resistance fighter Claus von Stauffenberg. There he found the Bendlerblock, the site of a monument to the German Resistance that McQuarrie found profoundly moving. “Berlin is a city of monuments,” McQuarrie¬ís guide told him, “but this is the only monument to any German who served in World War II.”

“Of course, I wanted to know more,” says McQuarrie. “Here was a very complex, remarkable story that most people outside of Germany had never heard before. It was a story that revealed not all Germans supported Hitler, that there were all kinds of resistors, including those in the military, and some who were willing to stand up and say no. The more I learned, the more I knew it would make a fantastic movie.”

And so it began. Continuing his research, McQuarrie was drawn in by Stauffenberg and his key role in planning the July 20, 1944, assassination plot against Hitler, including his ultimately carrying the bomb intended to change the world. McQuarrie became increasingly intrigued as to why some men are driven to acts of such extreme daring and profound conscience when their backs are against the wall. He began to see the story not just as a tale of mounting suspense, but one about the wages of courage and the way courage operates under extreme fire.

“A theme I am always attracted to is that of someone who is forced to step outside their reality and, by doing so, becoming a far bigger person,” McQuarrie says. “Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were all men who had wives and children and established reputations. They knew going in they had little chance of success, and they understood if they failed it would mean certain destruction. That’s what we wanted to honor with this story.”

McQuarrie tapped writing partner Nathan Alexander to begin the intensive task of researching Stauffenberg’s complicated life and, most important, the precise machinations of the plot to assassinate Hitler and replace his authoritarian government with a shrewdly planned coup.

As Alexander began poring through books, articles, court transcripts, and archival footage, he became increasingly excited about the potential to tell the story in a fresh and compelling way. “Stauffenberg is a fascinating character from the outset, this charismatic German officer with one eye and one hand,” says Alexander. “The more I learned about him, the more fascinated I became by who he was and how he ultimately came to do what he did.”

Initially, McQuarrie and Alexander allowed the research to drive the narrative of Valkyrie. “We didn¬ít set out with an agenda,” says McQuarrie. “We literally started by following the facts. We increasingly understood this was a controversial story, in that there remain many different opinions about whom each of these men were–from Stauffenberg to Beck to Olbricht–and what they each wanted. So the approach was to tell the story as truthfully as possible in two hours while conveying the pressure and suspense to a contemporary audience. In the midst of telling a gripping story, we wanted to really get the spirit that drove these men.”

As they wrote, the duo developed a unique process: Alexander would write an extremely detailed draft focusing strictly on the historical timeline, then McQuarrie would in turn write a draft zeroing in on maximizing the dramatic effect. “We¬íd go back and forth between these two poles until the pendulum rested in balance between the two,” says McQuarrie.

Ultimately, they found that the drama and tension of the story were inherent in the truth of what happened during this mission. The only significant changes McQuarrie and Alexander made to the facts of the story were compressing the timeline to fit a sleek, two-hour screenplay structure and compressing the number of characters involved; although some 200 people were hanged for their involvement and around 700 were arrested in direct connection with the July 20th Plot, a tightly-woven film narrative could only follow a handful of key players.

McQuarrie and Alexander did face a unique challenge in sustaining the story¬ís suspense for modern audiences–after all, Hitler’s ultimate fate is well known. They discovered, however, that the bombing was only half the story. The aftermath and the execution of Operation Valkyrie was filled with so many surprises, from fatal hesitation to soaring bravery, that it would keep the anxiety accelerating.

“The tension in the story is anchored on the affection we develop for these characters,” says McQuarrie. “The suspense lies in witnessing what each and every one of these men goes through in choosing to join the plot, and the decisions they each make in the course of its fateful execution.”

While McQuarrie and Alexander developed a deep respect for those involved in the German Resistance, they also wrestled with how these seemingly principled men of honor served under Hitler in the first place, especially knowing the atrocities of the concentration camps. They note that many of those in the military did not know how inhumane things would become under Hitler until it was too late. These men also took their commitment to the German people, which had been sealed long before Hitler came to power, very seriously. Many of those in the resistance wrestled with how to reconcile their oath with the urgent need to overthrow their country’s leader in a time of war.

“This was a culture where people truly believed that when you gave your word it was for life, and these men had all sworn an oath of loyalty to Hitler,” says McQuarrie. “Yet they ultimately reasoned that Hitler broke his oath to the country with the atrocities he and his ministers were perpetrating. They realized they had to do something for the sake of a different future, even if it meant being vilified as traitors by their fellow countrymen. It was an agonizing moral dilemma.”

Many of the military’s best and brightest hailed from the aristocratic class and were lifelong patriots who had joined the army out of a sense of service during World War I or, like Claus von Stauffenberg in 1926, well before the rise of Hitler. And many of these men were questioning Hitler’s policies by the mid-1930s, as the country’s military aggression and violence against Jews and others expanded. “There was a strong feeling during that time that an aristocrat’s mission should be to serve their country and the people, which is why so many– including Stauffenberg, Tresckow and Olbricht– joined the military,” says McQuarrie. “But many of these men were opposed to the Nazi agenda early on and became increasingly disillusioned with Hitler as the war progressed and they started to learn what was happening to the Jews and the Russians.”

The heinous treatment of Jews, Russian civilians, and POW¬ís across Europe became a turning point for many, including Stauffenberg. Bryan Singer says, “It was surprising to me to learn from my own research that many members of the military resistance were affected early on and very heavily by the treatment of the Jews and the truth of mass executions. It is what prompted them to feel they had to do something about it no matter the cost.”

Another key to the screenplay’s structure would be revealing the vital importance of Operation Valkyrie, the national emergency plan Hitler himself had established to protect his government from civil unrest if he was cut off or killed. The order called for Germany¬ís Reserve Army to take command of key government installations until order could be restored, a fact the conspirators cleverly attempted to use to their advantage. By secretly altering this intricate plan, the resistance hoped to assassinate Hitler and take Germany back from the Nazis by installing their own government in the ensuing chaos.

“We wanted to make clear that assassinating Adolf Hitler wasn’t enough, because that wouldn’t guarantee his Nazi government would fall. They also had to find a way to topple his regime,” says McQuarrie. “Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators used Operation Valkyrie to make it look as though Hitler’s closest inner circle had killed him and was trying to take over in Berlin. Posing as the legitimate government, the resistance would quickly mobilize the Reserve Army to arrest Hitler’s cronies and seize control of the government.”

If all had gone off without a hitch, if the plan hadn’t unraveled in so many small but devastating ways, could Operation Valkyrie have succeeded “I think we can only speculate as to whether it might have worked,” says McQuarrie. “No one can say what exactly would have happened because there were so many different factors at work. But there is evidence to suggest that it could have succeeded. And in the end, I think the conspirators achieved what they had hoped for most: They had shown the world there were Germans willing to make a stand.”