When Willi Herold first donned a stolen Nazi officer uniform, he had no idea he’d become one of World War II’s most infamous impersonators.
Der Hauptmann, or The Captain, is a chilling German-language film showcasing the final days of World War II through the eyes of the real-life private Willi Herold, who orchestrated the killing of over 100 German POWs. Despite its slow-moving runtime of 118 minutes, The Captain differentiates itself from other WWII films with its use of color, music and bloody sequences not for the faint of heart.
Herold (Max Hubacher) is both idealistic and vengeful. After retreating from his platoon and discovering an abandoned S.S. uniform, he assumes a new identity and assembles a ragtag team of comrades who wreak havoc throughout the countryside.
At heart, Herold is insecure and unable to control his emotions. Disillusioned by the war and Nazi regime, he takes out his frustrations on his comrades. He kills looters and rapists, shoots surrendering civilians and steals property. Herold is shrewd and charismatic, akin to a bratty child craving attention.
Hubacher thrives as Herold and comfortably balances this complex character’s two disparate personalities. He easily transitions from the sincere private shown running from officers in the film’s opening to the animalistic heathen Herold eventually becomes.
The film’s soundtrack — which would feel at home in a zombie apocalypse horror movie — adds to Herold’s transformation. Music sequences move between soft-upbeat jazz and unsettling, off-key electric notes.
The Captain showcases Herold’s transition into insanity and the destruction of Germany’s natural beauty by pairing this music with stunning imagery. Black and white imagery downplays the vivid, picturesque German countryside. The colors evoke memories of archival Holocaust footage and destruction or a loss of innocence.
Artistically, The Captain continues this destructive message through effective camera angles. In one scene, viewers see Herold’s mental transformation as he looks at his reflection through a car mirror. In another scene, Herold nearly flinches while ordering his men to kill prisoners. It’s a powerful, well-constructed sequence that delves into human psychology and asks whether Nazi officers had a sense of morality.
The Captain is a strong, eye-catching period drama that uses effective transitions and editing to depict man’s innate struggle for power and control. It is a powerful vignette of human nature that depicts the dark, gruesome people we can become when given the opportunity.