Angels of War

Tom Cruise’s WWII thriller Valkyrie has had some oddly nonsensical reviews. Scratching his head about this, critic Roger Ebert says, “I am at a loss to explain the blizzard of negative advance buzz [about the film].” The of such negative reactions was penned by Roger Friedman of Fox News. This reviewer complains, “You knew it would be bad, and it is.” For a professional film review, this is an absurd statement. How could Freidman know the movie was bad before he’d seen it? Smelling a rat, I checked out the film and found it. Ostensibly about German officers plotting to blow up Hitler, Valkyrie makes us think the unthinkable: is the US military justified in overthrowing its own government if the country is being led to certain ruin.

“He [Cruise] doesn’t even attempt a German accent,” Friedman says in his panicked review. “His American accent gets very bad, to the point where he’s dropping the g’s.” As a professional critic, Friedman would know that Cruise’s American accent is likely a deliberate choice by the director to connect Hitler’s war mongering with current US militarism. The film’s opening credits literally spell this out for us by fading the German spelling of the words into their English equivalents. In an attempt to throw the film’s potential audience off the scent, Friedman feigns bewilderment at the choice of Tom Cruise for the lead role. “He’s completely miscast,” the review insists, citing Cruise’s Jerry Maguire. This is a misleading casting reference, as Friedman would know. The correct reference is Cruise’s Born On The Fourth of July. The Oscar nominated role as a severely wounded American soldier, makes Cruise the perfect choice to play the German colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, who lost a hand and an eye in WW II. Perfect, that is, if the director wants to draw a parallel between the patriotic German soldier sick of Hitler’s lunacies and the patriotic American soldier sick of ass pyramids at Abu Ghraib.

To drive home the current events allegory, Valkyrie even imitates, tongue-in-cheek, Obama’s campaign slogan. The German colonel tells his co-conspirators that Hitler’s assassination is imperative because “a change must be made.” In an allusion to political protest being denounced as “pallin’ around with terrorists,” Von Stauffenberg tells a potential recruit, “I am involved in high treason…can I count you in?” Reminding us of the disgrace of former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales, the movie details how in Western societies regulations can be finagled to engineer power grabs. Quickly it becomes obvious why Fox News, the media arm of US militarism, would assault the film.

Friedman makes his clearest argument against the film when he says he didn’t like it “Because in Valkyrie Singer [the director] opens the door to a dangerous new thought: that the Holocaust and all the atrocities could be of secondary important [sic] to the cause of German patriotism.” Never mind that the hero is trying to end the war; Friedman is disappointed that he is doing it for the wrong reason, acting only to save his country from annihilation. It would have been meaningless if Von Stauffenberg had succeeded in ending World War II, says Friedman’s logic, because the ensuing cessation of Hitler’s war crimes would have been coincidental!! Just a few months before Von Stauffenberg’s July plot to eliminate Hitler, 400,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. I doubt any of the surviving inmates would have minded being rescued unintentionally.

I saw Valkyrie a few hours after I had returned from a Gaza protest rally; so images of civilian massacre were freshly painful on my mind, making one particular symbolism in the film go far with me. Von Stuaffenberg had lost an eye to the enemy, and the film made sure the audience kept that in mind. Despite the cruel wording, the “eye for an eye” directive in the Torah is meant to limit the retribution one can exact. It is a ban against unbridled vengeance. If someone pokes out your eye, then take his eye if you must. But you are forbidden to go on to kill his wife, burn his kids, tear down his house, take away his livelihood, and devastate his land.

The enemy owed Von Stauffenberg an eye, but with his good eye he could still see that continuing the war would ultimately lead to the annihilation of his own nation. Crazy Hitler couldn’t see that.

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