Valkyrie tells the tale of a plot to assassinate and overthrow the government of Adolph Hitler. By the time the war was winding down and Germany seemed to be on the losing side, many members of the military felt that suing for peace was the rational course - one that Hitler vehemently disagreed with, being set upon a disastrous "fight to the end" course which would end up claiming countless more lives.
Our protagonist in this drama is Count Claus Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a young Catholic Colonel in the German army who is injured in Africa, losing a hand and an eye. Already weary of the war and disdainful of Nazi policies, he is recruited by the resistance led by General Edward Beck (Terence Stamp). Their idea: assassinate Hitler, and then use Hitler's own contingency plan, code-named "Valkyrie," to take control of the government apparatus in Berlin and install economist/politician Carl Goerdeler as chancellor.
The film creates a palpable sense of tension, which is, alas, undercut by the sheer parade of guys in uniform who are not really explained or identified. I would consider myself at least an amateur student of the era, having read all 1150 pages of Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"... and I was still having a little bit of trouble following all the winding machinations of the plot and the players in it.
Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise. Never during the teleplay did I forget that I was watching Tom Cruise. Terence Stamp is very good, and most of the supporting players are fun to watch as well. There are, however, no real particular stand-out or "scenery chewing" performances. It's all very brisk and utilitarian.
Overall, this is a fine movie, but not the kind of period film that really whisks you away to a new time and place (like "The Aviator," "Zodiac" or "Milk"), or has you at the edge of your seat (like "The Dark Knight"). It's moderately entertaining. History buffs will find a lot to like. The average movie-goer will probably come away thinking "yep, those Nazis were pretty bad." Which is too bad, because the message of the film is that there were many Germans who resisted, despite how it might seem to the outside world.
Any criticism of "Valkyrie" is directed only at the film itself - the Blu-Ray is phenomenal. We are presented with a 1.78:1 image (i.e. one that fills a widescreen TV) that possesses exceptional detail. Dust motes after an explosion are visible. Fine facial lines, strands of hair, beads of sweat. The textures of wood, leather, gravel. Beautiful forests and airfields. It's really a top-notch HD experience. Particularly nice is the light but easily apparent film grain that permeates the transfer - thankfully not washed away by excessive digital noise reduction, which gives "Valkyrie" a nice film-like appearance on Blu-Ray. Audio is fine as well, with booming explosions, echoing shouts and "heils," all very nicely rendered in the surround space.
What truly amazes me are the quality of the extras - a 2 hour documentary is included, in 1080p, explaining the backdrop of the period. It is quite informative. Also included are commentaries, making of segments, and the like. It's amazing that the film looks so good even though there are essentially 4.5 hours of 1080p HD all on one disc. I guess they really used the 50gb capacity of Blu-Ray to its fullest here. It's so nice not to have extras banished to a second disc. Kudos!
Overall, this is a solid genre flick for fans of WWII drama. Those unfamiliar with the setting may be a bit lost during the proceedings, but a fine set of extras will fill them in if they devote the time to them. This is not a classic that will have you thinking about it for days afterward, or have your palms sweating with tension as you watch. But it's a good film that should find an audience with such a solid HD presentation to back it up. The a/v quality is top shelf, and could easily be used as "demo" material to impress friends or customers who are dubious of the benefits of Blu-Ray.