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article imageReview: TIFF 2017: ‘The Captain’ is the unsettling story of an imposter Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 20, 2017 in Entertainment
‘The Captain’ is the sharp portrayal of a young German soldier who turns his desertion into a personal blessing by assuming the role of a pitiless SS officer.
It would seem the angles from which a film can look at war and its atrocities are endless. There’s the three basic perspectives of the two opposing parties and the citizens caught between, but each of these have countless possibilities from administrative and frontline roles to patriotic or conscripted soldiers to compliant or rebellious populations. Moreover, the many nuances available to each character confirm the complexities of conflict as well as continuously fascinate audiences. In The Captain, a young German soldier in WWII finds the world is his oyster after a lucky break near the end of the war.
While it’s not known exactly what occurred between Herold (Max Hubacher) and his commanding officer, their last encounter leaves him hiding in the woods and scavenging for food. Desperate and cold, he happens upon an abandoned jeep with some food and a trunk containing a captain’s uniform. Deciding to take his chances, Herold assumes the appearance of an SS officer and practices his sneer. The first soldier he meets buys the ruse, emboldening the imposter and setting him on a path of greater subterfuge and undeniable cruelty. While many would come to question Herold’s methods, no one ever truly suspected his authority or rank.
Herold is quite the singer, but an even more convincing actor. After getting over his initial butterflies, he allows the power of the uniform to fill his brain and takeover his demeanour. Likely spending his enlistment envying the influence of his superiors, he relishes the opportunity to carry that clout himself. Moving from one location to the next, he reasserts his authority in each new encounter and grows his company under the guise of a special mission personally assigned by the Führer. However, where he starts by winning over people with mercy or kindness, he becomes increasingly ruthless and needlessly cruel, mirroring the callous attitude of one of his earlier recruits.
Shot in bleak black and white, writer/director Robert Schwentke returns to his native Germany for this raw and chilling story about a German deserter who ran for his life, not his principles. In spite of primarily making action movies of late, Schwentke has an absolute grasp of the landscape and sentiments of these months preceding the end of the war. Moreover, Hubacher’s genuine portrayal of a young man who transitions from survivalist to another cold-blooded arm of the Third Reich is exceptional. Combined, they deliver a picture that is compelling yet shocking — feelings only enhanced by the conclusion, which couldn’t be more appropriate.
The Captain had its world premiere in the Special Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2017 coverage.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel and Frederick Lau
More about The Captain, TIFF 2017, Max Hubacher, Robert Schwentke, Drama
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