Based on the arresting true story of the so-called Executioner of Emsland, The Captain follows a German army private, deserter Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), after he finds an abandoned Nazi captain’s uniform in the final weeks of World War II. Emboldened by the authority the uniform grants him, he amasses a band of stragglers who cede to his command despite the suspicions of some. Citing direct orders from the Fuhrer himself, he soon takes command of a camp holding German soldiers accused of desertion and begins to dispense harsh justice. Increasingly intoxicated by his unquestioned authority, this enigmatic imposter soon discovers that many people will blindly follow the leader, whomever that happens to be. Simultaneously a historical docudrama and sociological examination with undertones of the absurd, The Captain presents fascism as something of a game to be played by those most gullible and unscrupulous.
The film was directed by German director Robert Schwentke. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, he graduated from a Los Angeles film school, Columbia College Hollywood, in 1992. Schwentke directed two feature films in Germany, the thriller Tattoo and the comedy Eirdiebe, the latter a semi-autobiographical film about a man being treated for recurring cancer. In 2009 he directed The Time Traveler’s Wife, based on the best-selling novel, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. In 2010 Schwentke directed the action comedy Red with stars Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman. Schwentke also directed the action comedy crime film R.I.P.D, based on the comic book Rest in Peace Department, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges and released in 2013 in the United States. He also directed The Divergent Series: Insurgent, released in 2015.
After Schwentke showed The Captain at the Max Ophüls Festival in Saarbrucken, an event dedicated to up-and-coming directors from Germany, he looked even more radical than his younger colleagues. He said: “This is the new generation of filmmakers, so four or five of them came up to me after the screening of my film and they said: ‘Well, you know, next time you make a film, maybe you think a little longer about it before you make it because this clearly wasn’t thought through and felt like it was shot from the hip”. And I asked: “What makes you think that?”. And they said: “It’s so hard to watch. The main character never actually realizes he’s doing something bad and nobody really stands up to him.” So, they have internalized the conventions to the degree that they didn’t understand – what we were doing was a revision of said conventions. They thought it was a mistake. And I found that scary, but it also validated my point of view”.