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The Captain 2017

The Captain / Der Hauptmann / Kapitan / O Capitão / The Captain - l'usurpateur

The Captain-Der Hauptmann-Kapitan-O Capitao-l'usurpateur

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Based on the True Story of the Executioner of Emsland.

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About The Captain 💬

THE CAPTAIN is Robert Schwentke's return to Germany in a very different style than his earlier Flightplan, The Time Traveler's Wife, Red, Insurgent, and Allegiant.

  • Based on shocking true events.

In the last, desperate moments of World War II, a young German soldier fighting for survival finds a Nazi captain's uniform. Impersonating an officer, the man quickly takes on the monstrous identity of the perpetrators he is trying to escape from.

An a uniform awaken a desire for power in a man? THE CAPTAIN tells the story of a Nazi deserter named Herold, who stumbles upon a captain's uniform during the last days of World War II, and how this find changes his personality and life. Inspired by real people and events, the film observes what a man crushed under a military regime can do when he gains the reins of power and paints the portrait of darkness that resides deep in us all. With its striking black & white visuals that sear the mind, THE CAPTAIN serenely shows the cold and savage face of war and lust for power.

  • Germany, 1945 - The Nazis have withdrawn the hunt begins.

In a No Man's Land in Germany, two weeks before the end of the war, private Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), runs for his life. There is not even a thought of rejoining his platoon; it's every man for himself. Just before he is cut down by German officer Junker (Alexander Fehling), Herold finds a hiding place and manages to live another day.

Herold, left to fend for himself, is cold and hungry. His clothes are filthy rags and food and safety seem far away. When he meets another exhausted soldier on the way, the two sneak into a farmhouse to find food. During an attempt to steal some eggs, Herold's partner in crime is killed by the farmers. Herold fights with a farmhand and kills him. This time, it was only an accident.

Herold escapes. The next morning, he sees an abandoned officer's car by the side of the road. In it, he finds a suitcase with a captain's coat, a uniform and a pair of shoes. The freezing young man tries on the captain's coat and uniform. Miraculously, he is transformed into the spitting image of a real officer! Suddenly a soldier, Private Walter Freytag (Milan Peschel), appears. If Herold can't vamp his way through this situation, he's toast, so he goes for it: Herold impersonates the officer, chin up, chest out, and commands Freytag to become his driver.

In a nearby village, Herold invites himself and Freytag to a feast at a local inn and pretends to be on a top-secret mission to report about the conditions behind the frontline. Herold writes down the complaints of the various locals at the inn, all of whom have been robbed or taken advantage of by the military. He promises to reimburse them to the penny! Skeptical of this gravy-train, the innkeeper Gerd Schnabel (Alexander Hörbe) presents Herold with a captured looter and throws down the gauntlet before "the Captain": what are you going to do about this ne'er do well? The Captain has to act. And so he shoots the looter in the street in cold blood. Feeling safer in the risky confines of the farmhouse than out on the open road, Herold returns to the farm, where he and Freytag stumble into a wild frenzy: a group of drunk soldiers is celebrating while holding the farmers hostage. Herold reacts quickly: he calls the men to order and agrees to attach them to his command as requested by the thug Kipinski (Frederick Lau). The "Task Force Herold" is born.

  • Follow the Leader

This ragtag band of starving ruffians pushes along the antique roads of the German outback... until a cortege of military police stops Herold's crew. They want to see ID. Herold's sanity is at the breaking point right now, but his animal terror comes up with the perfect solution to his present problem: He tells the military cops that he is on a special investigative mission to study morale at the front... authorized by no less than the Führer himself. Along with the military police, Task Force Herold makes its way to a second camp, a detention site for soldiers of the Wehrmacht. This camp is a grim, dilapidated mini-sized, ramshackle jail that looks as if it will soon collapse in a heap of filth and exhaustion. Here, a suspicious but also over-burdened SA-Führer Schütte (Bernd Hölscher) believes Herold was sent to implement a court-martial for escaped prisoners...

But who is authorized to give permission for this? Is it Dr. Thiel, the Deputy Special Emissary for the Justice Department? Is it Prison Warden Hansen (Waldemar Kobus), in charge of the prisoners and the inner section of the camp? Is it Sergeant Brockhoff (Marko Dyrlich)? Herold finds himself coming up against the greatest terror of the prison-masters: not their prisoners - but taking action without getting the Proper Signoff from Above.

Who is going to take responsibility for what? While this remains uncertain, a proactive Schütte gives a group of prisoners an order: Dig a mass grave. Time to act for Herold. Go big or go home. Herold improvises: With the help of an anti-aircraft gun, he begins to brutally mow down the first 30 prisoners. The flack gun gets stuck before all are killed. Schütte orders everyone to shoot the remaining prisoners. Herold orders Freytag to execute the last survivor. Horrified, almost unable to obey, Freytag shoots the prisoner in the head.

To celebrate the success of their can-do solution, Herold throws a hot party at the barracks. While some prisoners (Samuel Finzi, Wolfram Koch) are forced to perform for the soldiers, food and schnapps are served in abundance. But the night quickly gets out of control. Outside the barracks, Herold ties four prisoners together and asks them to flee. One by one, they get shot down. As the shots fire, the prisoners who remain standing try to run, dragging the corpses of their fellows alongside them... till they, too, are dropped.

The next morning, Allied planes appear out of nowhere and bomb the camp to the ground. The barracks are burning, the ground is covered with corpses. A color shot shows the area of the camp as it looks in the present day, with tall grass covering up any trace of the former camp.

Taskforce Herold continues its mission in a nearby town. They find a mayor who flies a white flag outside his door. They summarily cap him in the head and start an orgy in the local hotel. When Kipinski takes a woman Herold had his eye on, their friendship ends brutally: Kipinski is forced to strip down at the town square and is executed.

The night ends in an orgiastic frenzy at the hotel. The last get-down, before the German Military Police, raids the place at dawn and arrests Herold and his men. Herold's cover is finally blown.

After facing four hours of German military court, it is determined that Herold is, in fact, the kind of get-the-job-done chap the army can ill afford throwing away. Besides, he stood at attention for four hours through the whole hearing! This guy is a precious resource. Herold is given a reprieve. He uses this opportunity to escape the building and disappears into a forest... just as he emerged from the woods at the beginning.

As the credits roll, we see Herold and his men roaming the streets of a German town in the present. They carry on bullying, harassing and robbing rob innocent passers-by, who seem somewhat, but not terribly, surprised...


Almost 70 years after the fact, the harsh brutalities of World War II still elicit incomprehension and dismay. By present-day standards, the violent acts committed seem abnormal, psychopathic, horrific.

But horror is a moral, not an analytical concept.

In order to explain Willi Herold's actions, we have to understand the world he lived in and not just our own world. We need to go beyond mere moral responses and experience the world from his point of view. Non-morally, so to speak, see what he saw, feel what he felt.

Our audience needs to experience Herold's historical, psychological and social reality directly, viscerally, emotionally. This story won't be told from the outside in but from the inside out. We will fully immerse the audience in Herold's state of mind.

Our goal is not to justify or forgive Herold's actions by contextualizing them, or worse: by introducing a moral relativism - but to understand the frame of reference which made these actions possible and so arrive at the general through the specific:

Herold's highly particularized perspective of a specific historical event allows us to glimpse a universal truth about the human condition in wartimes - past and present. Why tell this story? Because: "Through the past we comprehend the present, and through the present we prepare for the future." (Arno Schmidt).

In psychological terms, the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators was a cross-section of normal society and no specific group of people proved immune to the temptation, in Günther Anders's phrase, of "inhumanity with impunity."

They are us. We are them. The past is now.

Robert Schwentke

  • Willi Herold, a German life | The true story behind THE CAPTAIN

The story of THE CAPTAIN is based in great parts on the real-life story of 19-year-old German soldier Willi Herold who turned into a con man and a sadistic despot after finding and wearing the uniform of a high-rank officer in April 1945.

Willi Herold was born in 1925 in a small town near Chemnitz in the East of Germany and starts an apprenticeship as a chimney sweep before he is conscripted to join the Wehrmacht as a paratrooper in 1943. He fights in Italy before his brigade is deployed to serve in Germany.

On April 3, 1945, only a few weeks before the end of the war, Herold is separated from his troops and finds himself alone in a German no-man's-land, making his way North towards the town of Bentheim. Inside a demolished army car, the young man finds an officer's box with a captain's uniform that is equipped with war decorations and a number of badges of the highest honor, among those the Iron Cross.

Herold begins to play the role of the captain, quickly making use of his new powers and soon becoming the commander of a group of soldiers he encounters on the way. The German expression for soldiers who had lost their brigade or were under other circumstances separated from their troops is "Versprengte", which can be translated as "scattered" or "dispersed". Towards the end of the war, hundreds of Versprengte were on the roads of Germany, as were deserters.

The amount of soldiers under Herold was estimated to have once been around 80 men, with a core group of 12 men remaining until the end. As depicted in the film, Herold could not identify himself according to the rank of his uniform when meeting another officer on the road but got away only through his brazen, authoritarian and self-assured behavior towards the real captain.

In the Emsland, a sparsely populated area in the North-West of Germany, the Nazis had erected a total of 15 detention camps, 6 of which were exclusively for members of the Wehrmacht who were either deserters or being accused of insubordination, corroding the troops or other misdemeanors. Herold and his men arrive at Camp II, the detention camp Aschendorfermoor, on April 11, 1945.

Against the organizational structure of the camp and initially against the will of its superintendant, Herold and his men install a completely arbitrary summary court of their own, justifying their cruel murders and random executions with the lie of having orders from Adolf Hitler himself. Despite the lack of (written) proof, all officers believe him.

On April 12, 1945, Herold and his men ask inmates to dig a 1,80-meter-deep pit and begin executing them with an anti-aircraft gun. Later they would use machine guns to kill the soldiers, push them into the pit throw hand grenades into the hole. By the end of the night, 98 soldiers were executed. The mad atrocities of Herold's drumhead trials even exceeded the deeds shown in the film and included drowning inmates, body-stripping and chasing down deserters.

Between April 15 and 18, Herold and his men reorganize the camp completely, sending soldiers back to the Wehrmacht and accepting others into their group. On April 19, Allied Forces bomb the barracks and destroy the camp completely. Herold and his men continue their killing spree on their way to the small town of Papenburg. Their terror regime includes a public hanging, the execution of alleged spies and the killing of a farmer hissing the white flag of surrender.

On April 28, Herold is finally arrested by the German military police. During his time in jail, the Red Army reaches Berlin and Hitler commits suicide. Herold confesses his deeds but is let go by the tribunal. When Herold is asked to join "Operation Werewolf" one of the last Nazi plans to form resistance against the allies, Herold escapes to Wilhelmshaven. Ironically, he is caught by a British marine soldier while stealing a loaf of bread and his story is eventually revealed and presented to a British military court. Willi Herold is sentenced to death on August 29, 1946. Herold and five other men are killed by guillotine. He was 20 years old.

Willi Herold would later be known as the "Hangman of the Emsland" ("Henker vom Emsland"). He had killed almost 170 people.

The Captain Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Robert Schwentke

Writing Credits

Robert Schwentke


Max Hubacher

Frederick Lau

Milan Peschel

Alexander Fehling

Bernd Hölscher

Waldemar Kobus

Samuel Finzi

Wolfram Koch

Britta Hammelstein

Sascha Alexander Gersak

Kordian Rekowski

Eugenie Anselin

Shannon Staller

Annika Polivka

Alexander Hörbe

Marko Dyrlich

Music by

Martin Todsharow

Category: EFA, European Film Award Winner

Genres: Drama, History, War

Countries: Germany, Poland, Portugal, France

The Captain Official Trailer

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