READ MORE ABOUT THE CAST AND THEIR CHARACTERS
READ MORE ABOUT DESIGNING AND DRESSING VALKYRIE
READ MORE ABOUT A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GERMAN RESISTANCE TO HITLER
ON THIS PAGE: HOW THE FILM WAS MADE AND DIRECTOR BRYAN SINGER TACKLES A TRUE STORY
Based on a stunning true story, Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in the suspense film VALKYRIE, a chronicle of the daring and ingenious plot to eliminate one of the most evil tyrants the world has ever known.
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. Then 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 (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns) re-teams with Academy Award-winning The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie to bring to life the story of the men who led the operation to assassinate Hiltler. In addition to Cruise, the film's acclaimed 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. 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.
The film was shot in Germany at various locations where many of the actual events occurred, including the historic Bendlerblock
The Story Begins:
How a trip to Berlin set Bryan Singer, Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander on a quest to bring the German Resistance out of the shadows…
Bryan Singer began his filmmaking career with the highly acclaimed suspense thriller The Usual Suspects and went on to bring the comic book worlds of the X-Men and Superman to the screen with a dynamic originality. His direction is known for its edge-of-your-seat tension and gripping storytelling. But 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's 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 Academy 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's 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't 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'd 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's 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's 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's 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."
Bryan Singer Takes on a True Story
Many might view Valkyrie as a departure for 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's remarkable strength was all grounded in very real things: his dedication to his country, to his family, and especially to what was right."
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," he 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."
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, Göring, Himmler, etc., 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. "I'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."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
BRYAN SINGER (Director / Producer) has infused his award-winning films - from the 1993 feature Public Access, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, to the blockbuster Superman Returns - with richly drawn characters and a bold visual style.
He first gained widespread attention in 1995 with the mystery/thriller The Usual Suspects, followed by Apt Pupil, which was adapted from a Stephen King novella, the summer 2000 blockbuster X-Men and the even more successful 2003 sequel X2: X-Men United. He helmed the adaptations with a keen awareness of the 40-year-old comic franchise's legion of admirers. Comic fans and new audiences overwhelmingly embraced Singer's vision, which seamlessly used the science fiction and action/adventure genres with an all-star.
Taking on another iconic comic book character with Superman Returns, Singer re-launched the long-dormant franchise with talented newcomer Brandon Routh. The first blockbuster shot on the Panavision Genesis digital camera, Singer's vision excited fans and critics alike while drawing large audiences worldwide to traditional and Imax 3-D formats.
Singer has directed and/or produced a myriad of other projects through his Bad Hat Harry Productions banner, a motion picture, television and video game production company he formed in 1994. His producing endeavors include the feature-length documentary Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, the miniseries The Triangle, and the upcoming feature Trick 'r Treat, written and directed by Superman Returns and X2 co-screenwriter Michael Dougherty. Singer's first foray into series television, the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Fox television series House starring Hugh Laurie, is consistently among the top 5 shows on television. He is also executive producer of the television series Dirty Sexy Money. Singer's projects have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide.
CHRISTOPHER Mc QUARRIE (Producer / Screenwriter) was born and raised in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. In lieu of college he went to work for a detective agency in North Jersey. Four years later he applied to the New York Police Department and was on his way to the academy when former schoolmate Bryan Singer offered him the opportunity to write their first feature film, Public Access, winner of the 1993 Sundance Film Festival's grand jury prize.
Singer and McQuarrie collaborated again on the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, for which McQuarrie received the Edgar Allan Poe Award, The Independent Spirit Award, and the British and American Academy Awards. McQuarrie spent the next several years dividing his time between rewriting studio movies (such as Singer's X-Men) and developing material on his own or with fledgling writers, often focusing on true stories. During this time, McQuarrie also wrote and directed The Way of the Gun
NATHAN ALEXANDER (Screenwriter / Co-Producer) was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and currently lives in New York City. Valkyrie is his first produced screenplay.
THE ART OF ADAPTATION