The Captain (2018) Der Hauptmann ****

September 17th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Writer/Dir: Robert Schwentke | Cast: Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel, Frederick Lau, Waldemar Kobus | Wartime Thriller | 118′

Best known for Divergent and The Time Traveler’s Wife, Robert Schwentke’s first German-language feature for 15 years is a shocking depiction of the dark recesses of the human mind when left to its own devices after emotional trauma has robbed it of all decency.

This gruellingly uncomfortable watch is told through the real-life story of a young German soldier who deserts his unit during the last knockings of the Second World War when he assume the rights but not the responsibilities of of a high-ranking official whose guise he assumes after a chance discovery.

We meet Willi Herold (Hubacker) trudging laboriously through a widescreen rolling landscape in search of something to eat. Mud-splattered and worn down after hiding in the roots of a tree after his chase through the forrest that is straight out of Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night. Herold is now desperately looking for something to eat. What he finds is a suitcase containing the pristine uniform of a Nazi captain. Confidently assuming this new guise complete with monocle, Herold goes on to command a motley crew of survivors on an odyssey into the nadir of destruction and debauchery.

Far from Noirish this startlingly lit arthouse shocker takes time in establishing its horrific storyline as Private Herold transforms into an emotionally detached psychopathic killer. A hauntingly spare score, jagged angles and claustrophobic interiors echo German Expressionism at its finest as the camera leers down on Gothic townscapes and cowers up at the frightening faces of these demonic deserters at the crumbling of the Third Reich.

A dynamic cast of Germany actors are led by the diminutive Max Hubacher channelling Bob Hoskins in Long Good Friday with touches of Daniel Craig. After subjugation, he discovers domination. And he likes it. Barking orders at his subordinates and giving his hostages the full two barrels, the tension gradually mounts as he convinces everyone he’s taking order from the Führer himself. Milan Peschel plays his adjutant, calmly obeying him but secretly despising him. There’s a madcap quality at play here, although realism dominates in the dialogue and acting.

The Captain must surely be the definitive anti-war film with its over-arching themes of futility and gratuitous violence and the final scenes shows British complicity in the act of war, but not a drop of blood is ever shed. Chillingly devoid of genuine camaraderie save that of the togetherness of joint slaughter this is an exquisitely stylish, gratuitously violent, quintessentially German absurdist parody with its homage to The Night Porter in the deranged denouement. MT

In UK cinemas from 21 September 2018

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