Movie Review: 'The Keeper' Arrives at the Exact Wrong Time
Now is not the time for the lovable redeemed Nazi story.
Now is not the time for the movie The Keeper. A movie highlighting a story of reconciliation between victims of the Nazis and a Nazi soldier has no place in a world where Nazi propaganda and fascism is once again on the rise. Regardless of the good intentions at the heart of the movie and at the heart of the filmmakers, we need not demonstrate compassion or acceptance for people who fight on the side of Nazi ideology no matter how much they claim that they did so against their will.
It doesn’t help that The Keeper is desperately misguided in presentation. The film opens with our protagonist, future British soccer superstar, Bert Trautman (David Kross), being taken prisoner by the British and the Brits are treated as the baddies. We arrive at a British prison camp where we are fully introduced to Trautman and the story comes from his perspective. He and the other German soldiers are met by a Sgt Smythe, played by character actor Harry Melling, with the most punchable face on the planet.
This creates a very odd and unwelcome perspective wherein we are seemingly supposed to view Smythe as the bad guy and the literal Nazi soldier as the persecuted victim. Trautman is forced to shovel out what passes for bathroom facilities, holes people sit on over a trench, and is generally targeted by Smythe because he’s the main character. Trautman’s lot in life changes when he grabs a soccer ball and starts keeping goal.
Spotted by a local trader, Jack Friar (John Henshaw), who happens to also run a local soccer club, Trautman is suddenly being traded out of the prison camp for cigars on a regular basis so he can keep goal. Eventually, Jack takes over as the caretaker to the prisoner and he starts working in Jack’s trade shop alongside Jack’s daughter, Margaret (Freya Meyer), who will be his love interest. Yes, this is based on a true story but the perfunctory presentation is straight out of a very basic guide to screenplay writing.
The story goes on to have Trautman go from hated German enemy to soccer star who gets a shot to join the vaunted and historic Manchester United Football Club. Where, over time and via winning many games, he earns a beloved place in British society that apparently holds through this day. This all really happened and in some context it is an inspiring notion. At the same time, it’s also a rather craven story of people willing to forgive a man who fought for Germany in World War 2 because he can play soccer really, really well.
It is a dark joke that fans of English football would willingly do anything for their club to win, even working with a literal Nazi. This movie tries to play that dark joke as an inspiring true story of forgiveness and redemption and the tonal dissonance is inescapable. Regardless of the true story and how Bert Trautman became beloved and in many ways worked to redeem himself, the symbology is all wrong, especially today. In this day and age, regardless of what might be right on an individual level, we can give no quarter to Nazis.
It’s entirely unfair to the Bert Trautman’s of the world who may have genuinely been good people, but the message is more important than fairness. Nazis get no comfort, they get no space, we give them no wiggle room to defend themselves. When you stand with Nazis you pay the price. True story or not, The Keeper is the wrong story at the wrong time. Whether you hold the real Bert Trautman in high regard or not. No quarter for Nazis and no quarter for movies that portray them as reformable underdog heroes.
The clumsiness of The Keeper baffles me, the many times that the movie sidetracks for quiet moments where we are supposed to marvel at Trautman’s basic decency deaden the pace. Worse though is how people who dare to question if Trautman should be embraced or be forced to answer for his time in the war are treated as if they are the villains. The shrieking mob of The Keeper is filled with people whose rage is legitimate and the questions they are asking are reasonable but for the story to achieve its desired effect, we are asked to feel for Bert and that was never going to happen for me.
The Keeper opens virtually, nationwide on Friday and in some theaters.