It’s two weeks before the end of the Second World War and the German army is disintegrating.
As Allied troops pour into Germany, a Wehrmacht private deserts.
But he finds himself hunted by a vicious gang of military police who blame the moral failings of the lower orders for the disastrous course of the war. When he discovers the abandoned uniform of a German air force captain, the soldier grabs his opportunity to escape the front for good.
But instead, his attempts to hide his true identity lead him to join the very military police who pursue him.
Assuming the persona of a Nazi official means becoming implicated in some of the sickening final war crimes of the dying Third Reich.
This is the true story of Willi Herold, the “Butcher of Emsland”.
True to this epithet, The Captain is made up of utterly gruelling scenes of brutal violence. They drive home the vicious irrationality of the Nazi regime as it drew its last breaths, in a similar way to 2004’s Downfall.
Downfall focused on the top of the Nazi Party and its blind loyalty to a Hitler increasingly detached from the reality of impending defeat. The Captain is more interested in how people use the authority of others to displace responsibility for their own actions.
Claiming to have been sent on the authority the Fuhrer himself, Herold becomes a lightning rod for the sickest elements in the decaying Nazi army.
The Captain is a punishing watch. But it is also a film that laughs at the absurdity of authority, mixing pitiless violence with elements of a mistaken identity farce.
It’s with this black humour that The Captain throws the accusation of “imposter” at everyone who claims the right to make others suffer on the basis of a uniform, rank or status.
Directed by Robert Schwentke
On limited release