Director: Robert Schwentke
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Writers: Robert Schwentke
Stars: Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel, Frederick Lau, and Waldamer Kobus
‘The Captain’ was nowhere on my radar leading up until the day I saw the film. Schwentke and his filmography had me a little skeptical heading into my viewing of his black-and-white rendering of one of World War II’s most bizarre stories. Fortunately, The Captain is quite different than his other films and should be looked at as one of 2018’s hidden gems.
First and foremost, while the main criticism for this film has to do with the grimiest of main characters, possibly of all-time, a purely evil and nonsensical figure in history, and trying to relate in some way to this unbelievably dark story, is not the intentions of the filmmaking. Clearly, the intentions and themes are much more complex than just a typical Nazi centered film that focuses more on the violence than the actual characters. No, I believe The Captain, in a harrowing, semi-realist interpretation, show the true nature and how easily we manipulate ourselves into doing something wrong. In this case, one’s survival outweighing the importance of a complete strangers life. I found this film endlessly fascinating in that regard.
Will Herold portrayed wonderfully by Max Hubacher, is one remarkably evil figure. Fleeing his own prosecution from the German army, as we see in the opening scene of the film, he later comes across a German officers uniform, and by sheer luck is able to convince other German’s that he is, in fact, on an assignment from Fuhrer himself. This leads to some completely unfathomable circumstances, where Herold is killing off German prisoners trying not to raise suspicion.
By the end of the film, Holden is changed entirely and directly responsible for all the atrocities that took place. The dichotomy of his character is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Holden literally starts the film beaten, tattered, and on the run from the German army, only to find himself being praised by the end of the film by high-ranking German officials for efficiently executing prisoners and following his own moral compass. Watching a man convert to total evil was fascinating, and learning how any one of us are capable of such evil. It’s a self-reflective film, believe it or not, that made me question aspects of our current society and the idea of falling in line.
What’s remarkable is not that Holden convinced a number of officials that he was Holden, but that he took that fleeting power from his fake standing and used it in an utterly bizarre and torturous way. He almost instantly accepts the fact that this type of behavior is accepted and normal. The slide into the pit of despair in The Captain is an outstanding visual experience, brought on through this incredibly dark story, and hammered home through Ballhaus’s breathtaking cinematography.
Simply put, The Captain is one of the best-looking films of the year, and that comes off the hands of Martin Scorsese’s longtime DP, Michael Ballhaus’s son, Florian, who does an outstanding job compositionally in this film. The wide-shot compositions are so important to the film as the bulk of the story and character development is done through the framing of each scene. For example, the barracks scenes in the second act are light-hearted and funny, but what’s happening in the frame tells the opposite story. Most of those images relate to devil worship and pagan rituals, and those scenes showed the blind eye that is turned into human suffering in favor of their own comfort. The cinematography plays an incredibly important role here.
Black-and-white is stunning, and the decision, in this case, to use it works because it accentuates the barren landscape. It also doesn’t distract from any narrative, and instead of getting lost in color compositions, it shows a true dichotomy on each actors face and displays their own issues with themselves. Showing how easy it is to get lost in darkness.
In my eyes, it’s the best looking film of the year. Scenes are set up and framed to better tell the narrative. It’s exhilarating watching a film that doesn’t rely on the script only to tell its story. Schwentke used everything at his disposal to tell this story. It’s also just beautiful. Pure-and-simple, each shot brings so much value.
Portraying a Mad Man
In a few spots, these German characters show a slither of humanity, but as Hubacher’s demeanor changes from constantly nervous and scared to stone-cold stoic and ferocious as he gains a reputation, any sense of humanity is squashed. Holden is not your typical psychotic mass murderer. He seemingly commits these atrocities by mistake, but as he gains confidence throughout the film, it becomes deliberate and calculated. He quite literally buys into his own bullshit that he’s conjured up in his own mind. His performance and that character, despite being a complete monster, is fascinating.
The rest of the cast is essentially just foddered for Holden’s escapades, and while Freytag (Milan Peschel) shows some decency, even his character submits in the end. Watching how these characters become animalistic is unsettling but interesting. The scene where Holden executes Kipnikis (Frederick Lau) because of jealousy over a girl shows the complete transformation of this man, and even more discerning is how submissive every person he comes across is towards him because of his relation to the Fuhrer.
See this film right fucking now. Every scene brings something unique and it’s engaging intellectually, visually, and stimulates the brain with its unnerving violence. The plotting is excellent and leads to some really memorable moments.
Surprisingly, The Captain is my favorite movie of 2018 pre-award season.