With its uplifting tale of redemption, The Keeper attempts to maintain a balance between inspiring sports drama and difficult subject matter. German director/co-writer Marcus H. Rosenmüller tries to address tough questions within the true story of Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann yet hurries past them in favor of a predictable romance and a conventional sports movie narrative.
Trautmann (David Kross, The Reader) is a German soldier captured during World War II and sent to a British prison camp. There, bleak settings of war followed by the misery of shoveling latrines are alleviated when the prisoners play soccer in their free time.
The film’s tone lightens when Trautmann’s talents as a goalkeeper are noticed by local grocer Jack Friar (John Henshaw), who also manages the town’s soccer club. Additionally, Friar has a feisty daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor, The Sense of an Ending), with whom Trautmann is immediately enamored.
These developments set up the central conflict of the story with the community outraged that Friar is employing a German whose army was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Margaret shares that animosity yet soon develops romantic feelings for Trautmann, conveniently sensing that he’s a good man who was forced to do very bad things.
The script by Rosenmüller and Nicholas J. Schofield needs villains for dramatic purposes. Yet Sgt. Smythe (Harry Melling, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), who runs the prison camp and is understandably cruel toward his prisoners, becomes a sympathetic character when it’s revealed what the war has cost him. And Bill (Michael Socha), whom Margaret eventually ditches for Trautmann, is apparently worthy of scorn because he doesn’t like to dance.
Furthermore, The Keeper can’t reconcile its themes with the narrative. Does someone deserve redemption after committing (or failing to stop) unspeakable atrocities? Should people forgive others for those actions? Meanwhile, the story must also show the progression of Trautmann’s relationship with Margaret and his soccer career upon being recruited to play for Manchester City, along with tragedies that occur amid those developments.
Attempting to cover all of that requires big jumps in the timeline, and that approach causes some confusion. Trautmann’s story is fascinating, yet it might be too complex and nuanced for a two-hour movie trying to appeal to a wide audience.
Available to rent starting Oct. 2 via fineartstheatre.com