Robert Schwentke (director)
21 September 2018 (released)
25 September 2018
There is possibly a seam of comedy to be exploited when a film opens with a man covered in mud is being chased by other men in a truck firing at him while one is playing a trumpet. Giving them the slip, he finds an abandoned vehicle with a pristine Nazi Captain’s uniform that doesn’t quite fit but is enough to convince a stray Private Freytag (Milan Peschel) that he is one. The private on uncertain ground himself asks to join his squad. He agrees and after that another bunch of doubting deserters join them. The mission is to chase down desperate colleagues in 1945 Germany, (just before the German army actually surrenders) because The Captain says he is operating with orders direct from the Fuhrer himself. That seam is opened but never mined, as the film progresses all levity is brutally dashed as The Captain indulges his position and power.
A charmless, utterly ruthless, sociopath the guile and manipulation that Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) demonstrates to both take on the role and build on it is horrific. The men that follow him have their doubts - little details such as trousers not fitting give him away – but go along with the charade. Self-preservation possibly but it could be as the war is lost and their sole use is to wander about the countryside looking for deserters and looters in the hollow belief that they still have some duty to Hitler, possibly Germany.
Brutality and sadism are meted out as they eventually find themselves at a prison barracks filled with deserters. The bureaucratic set up means that the prisoners are under the Ministry of Justice rather than the military who are itching to court martial them. Through cunning and guile Herold gets the permission he needs.
The Ministry of Justice officials aren’t happy, not at the thought of the court martials but that it wasn’t done by the book: men dehumanised, reduced to data and regulation. The officials leave the camp, the ensuing savagery (and bizarre revelry) stark in Florian Ballhaus’s magnificent black and white photography. A word to for the grinding soundtrack by Martin Todsharow which is the perfect foil.
Robert Schwentke’s film is bleak and very violent laying bare an acceptance of exploitation and cruelty that is profoundly disturbing. The only character permitted any sort of conscience is Freytag. Hubacher is sublime as Herold, so much so that we can see his cold mind calculating the odds when he’s in a situation, a man so enraptured in his own lie that after the camp sets off on another deranged mission.
And as weird and incredible as it may seem, The Captain is based on actual events.