Thursday, July 26, 2018

How dark and deadly can WWII Germany get? Discover Robert Schwentke's THE CAPTAIN

Antiheroes don't come much more non-heroic than the young German army deserter who goes by the  name of Willi Herold, and who -- thanks to the discovery of a abandoned jeep, a uniform and some food --  is soon impersonating a German Captain and getting up to some really awful stuff.

Herr Herold actually existed, and even if the movie made about him -- entitled THE CAPTAIN and just having its U.S. theatrical debut -- is fictionalized, this young man's short but shocking military career should astound and depress you, big-time.

The film's writer/director, Robert Schwentke (shown at left) has had a varied career, including both German and American films (from Flight Plan and RED to the Insurgent/Allegiant duo), but nothing he's done that I've seen would have prepared us for the bleak and nasty ugliness of this intimate little World War II epic. What young Herold does and how he manages it might defy credibility were the history of WWII not already so crammed with shock and unbelievable horror. As played by Max Hubacher (shown below), a young actor whose career seems to have been set in major

motion by this role and film, Herold remains as fascinating and mystifying as he is a cipher. We know nothing about him prior to his desertion (except a couple of platitudes his daddy told him). Though he initially seems like someone we might root for as he runs away from the German military police whose aim is clearly to kill him, once his escape is made and his disguise in place, he slowly becomes more and more horrific. All of which makes this young man's single scene of what seems like "feeling" (shown in the penultimate photo below) all the more bizarre.

Yet it takes much more than a single man -- even a high-level military officer -- to achieve what  is accomplished here. How Herold is helped along, and by whom, is what makes the movie even darker and more disgusting.

The apex/nadir is reached in a lengthy celebratory dinner honoring this "officer" and his work, with food and alcohol aplenty and even a pair of Jewish comedians to entertain the troops with ugly jokes. How those whom one might call "good" Germans are coerced into helping the horror is effectively demonstrated, and this landmark scene ends by offering up the single way out, when one is forced to enable this kind of evil.

As effective as is young Hubacher, the excellent supporting cast proves even better, with Milan Peschel (above and below, left) the standout, as the infantryman who initially helps Herold, only to grow increasingly aghast at (and a reluctant party to) his actions.

During the films final half hour, it grows nearly (and rightly) surreal, as this war must have seems for so many people. As director, Schwentke gets much not merely "right" but on-the-nose, though I wish he had done away with a few unnecessary artsy/fartsy overhead shots and that single moment when the excellent black-and-white cinematography (by the excellent Florian Ballhaus) must change to color in order to make a point that has already been made via the script.

Otherwise, The Captain is strong, hideous stuff. Gird up your loins and prepare. The movie will make you glad all over again that Germany and Hitler lost their war and should have you hopeful that Donald Trump and the Republican Party will lose theirs against America. We shall see.

Meanwhile, this Music Box Films release, running just under two hours and spoken in German with English subtitles, opens tomorrow, Friday, July 27, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, in Chicago at the Music Box Theater on August 3, and in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt on August 10 -- before expanding to another dozen or so theaters over the weeks/months to come. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then scroll down to click on THEATERS.

No comments: