American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Valkyrie" is a meticulous thriller based on a large-scale conspiracy within the German army to assassinate Hitler, leading to a failed bombing attempt on July 20, 1944. At the center of the plot was Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, played here by Tom Cruise as the moving force behind the attempted coup, which led to 700 arrests and 200 executions, including von Stauffenberg's. Because we know Hitler survived, the suspense is centered in the minds of the participants, who call up the Reserve Army and actually arrest SS officials before discovering that their bomb did not kill its target.
Considering they were planning high treason with the risk of certain death, the conspirators seem remarkably willing to speak almost openly of their contempt for Hitler. That may be because they were mostly career officers in the army's traditional hierarchy and hated Hitler as much for what he was doing to the army as for what he was doing to the country. Realizing after the invasion of Normandy that the war was certainly lost, they hoped to spare hundreds of thousands of military and civilian lives.
Von Stauffenberg was known to be "offended" by the Nazi treatment of Jews in the 1930s and considered the Kristallnacht a disgrace to Germany, which possibly disturbed him as much as the fate of its victims. In any event, little is said among the conspirators about the genocide then underway -- although, being alienated from the SS, perhaps they didn't know what was happening. Perhaps.
They repeatedly tell each other that even should they fail, at least the world would know that not all Germans supported Hitler. And so it does. And whatever their deepest motives, they gave their lives in trying to kill the monster. The film, directed by Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects"), works heroically to introduce us to the major figures in the plot, to tell them apart, to explain their roles and to suggest their differences. The two best supporting performances are by Kenneth Branagh, as a major-general who smuggles a bomb into Hitler's inner circle and then must smuggle it out again, and Tom Wilkinson, as a general who artfully plays both sides of the fence, treating the plot with benign neutrality while covering himself should it fail.