The movie as a whole is a masterpiece. I am not exaggerating. The soundtrack alone should be billed as one of the leading stars in the movie. The drums and staccato sounds create an unceasing pulsating emotional tension that supports the powerful performances and story of the movie.
The ensemble cast was a huge surprise. Tom delivers a spectacular performance--but it would have been completely unappreciated without the large number of amazing supporting actors.
The cinematography uses close-ups in an interesting way that emphasizes human features of the perspective from which we, as the viewers, are engaged in the story. It creates a realism of 'being there' right behind the human being telling the story . . . it was awesome.
I am a little disappointed with the female roles in the movie, and the amount of screen time and script space they are given. They are there as secretaries, wives, and background . . . not exactly the roles that I'm sure they had in real life.
WARNING -- SPOILER COMMENT HERE -- Please stop reading if you haven't seen the movie.
At the end of the film there is an incredibly human moment with the adjutant (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften) to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). They are about to be executed. General Friedrich Olbricht goes first, with Stauffenberg encouraging him to "look them in the eyes" and make them remember us.
Then it's Stauffenberg's turn. He walks into the street to stand in front of the firing squad alone . . . and then his adjutant suddenly walks over to stand in front of him with his back to the firing squad in a symbolic gesture of defiance to Hitler and the SS, and defense of the man he follows and is friends with--it's a movie moment that I would put on par with scenes from Band of Brothers, Saints and Soldiers, and Saving Private Ryan.
Finally, the thing that makes this movie a masterpiece is the story itself--without a story there is nothing but special effects and the plastic surgery-based superficiality of Hollywood's regular gruel for consumption. Historians and WW II experts will probably poke holes in some of the revisionist details in the movie, but I think that as a piece of historical drama writing that the script is fantastic.
Wikipedia has this picture of Tom Cruise and the real life Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg . . . the similarities are uncanny, literally. It's almost like this is a role that Tom was 'meant' to do . . . I also have to wonder what role Scientology played in Tom choosing to act in this movie given the importance of past lives in his religion.
The ensemble cast, as I said before, is a huge key to this movie's success. They were so amazing that I'm putting the list of them from wikipedia here (see below).
Julianne and I walked out of the theater actually feeling like we had just witnessed a great story and performances of the highest level--how often can one say that?
p.s. Wow, I haven't seen Branagh in a while--his role contributes a great deal to the development of the momentum and tension in the story. I hope he does more work in the near future.
Other cast members:
- Kenneth Branagh portrays Major General Henning von Tresckow. Branagh differed physically from the real Tresckow, who was balding, but Singer said, "[I]f you look at Tresckow's energy, he had an honesty that Branagh has."
- Bill Nighy portrays General Friedrich Olbricht. Nighy was cast to give a sympathetic quality, so Olbricht would not be the "fall guy". Nighy wanted to convey Olbricht as divided between complaining about Hitler's regime and actually doing something about it. The actor described his portrayal, "One of the most disconcerting things imaginable is to put on a Nazi uniform. It's so associated with evil that it took me several days to get used to being in costume."
- Terence Stamp portrays Colonel General Ludwig Beck. Singer met Stamp to discuss playing a part in X-Men, having admired him for portraying General Zod in Superman II. Stamp endured the Blitz as a child and aided Singer in staging a scene where the von Stauffenbergs hide from the Allied bombings. The actor described his approach to portraying Beck: "There has to be a kind of non-judgmental discernment, so when I'm playing villains, they don't think they're particularly villains." The actor sought to find "the part of Terence that would be prepared to fall on his sword for certain ideals."
- Tom Wilkinson portrays Colonel General Friedrich Fromm, head of Germany's Reserve Army. Wilkinson was cast to make the treacherous Fromm sympathetic.
- Carice van Houten portrays von Stauffenberg's wife, Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg. The filmmakers were impressed by her performance in Black Book, and argued she could give a strong performance with minimal dialogue. Nathan Alexander spoke to von Stauffenberg's relatives and noted although Nina and Claus never directly spoke about the plot, "in a sense it was all they talked about".
- Kevin McNally portrays Dr. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a German politician who intends to become chancellor of Germany after a successful coup.
- David Schofield portrays Erwin von Witzleben, a retired Field Marshal and one of the plotters.
- Christian Berkel portrays Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim, a plotter with knowledge of explosives.
- Jamie Parker portrays Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, an adjutant to von Stauffenberg who helps the colonel carry out the plot.
- Eddie Izzard portrays General Erich Fellgiebel, a German officer responsible for communications at Hitler's bunker Wolf's Lair.
- David Bamber portrays Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Germany.
- Thomas Kretschmann portrays Major Otto Ernst Remer, head of a Reserve Army battalion. Kretschmann was the original choice to play von Stauffenberg before Singer joined the production, when McQuarrie was intending to direct.
- Harvey Friedman portrays Dr. Joseph Goebbels, a member of Hitler's inner circle.
- Kenneth Cranham portrays Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the head of the OKW and a member of Hitler's inner circle.
- Matthias Freihof portrays Heinrich Himmler, the head of Schutzstaffel and a member of Hitler's inner circle.