It feels like a lengthy absence since the last sports star biopic was released. I, Tonya (2017) and Foxcatcher (2014) are the only two that stand out in recent years. Amidst a sea of remakes, sequels and the overwhelming Marvel Comic Universe, The Keeper, presents itself as a breath of fresh air.
Directed by Marcus H. Rosenmüller, it immortalises the true story of legendary German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann (David Kross). Unless you’re a keen soccer fan you may well never have heard of Trautmann. The interesting story of his life picks up when he is a young soldier, fighting on the front line for Germany in World War II.
He’s captured and sent to an English PoW camp where, as luck would have it, he’s discovered by the local soccer team’s coach, Jack Friar (John Henshaw). It’s not a popular move, but in a desperate attempt to save his team from relegation, Friar recruits Trautmann as the team’s new goalkeeper.
Trautmann is also put to work in the family store where he gets to know Friar’s feisty daughter, Margaret (Freya Mavor). She objects to his presence and, like many of the English, uses him as a scapegoat for the anger and resentment she harbours towards Germans in general.
Kross’ performance as the emotionally burdened ex-soldier turned soccer star is outstanding. His ability to communicate a sentiment without words by making his face tick to reveal just the right amount of emotion is something to behold. He comes across as principled, tormented, kind, love-struck and strong and is the star player that The Keeper very much needed to chalk up a win.
The only issue was with his ageless appearance. While the film spans some twenty or so years, nothing is done to age Trautmann’s appearance. And in a time where filmmakers can make it look like jungle animals are having an actual conversation, it feels like they could’ve done more here. Kross shares strong chemistry with Henshaw and Mavor, who also offer a solid contribution to the film.
The acting is terrific but the script must get some credit for its wholesome character development. Jack Friar could easily have been written as a one-dimensional, controlling father-type, but instead, we see his softer side. He’s a prankster, a man who weeps openly, and one who shares a drink and advice with the young guy trying to sleep with his daughter, rather than brandishing a shotgun the way most protective movie-dads tend to do.
As his daughter, Mavor has a huge character arc to complete. Her gradual thawing and where her character finally arrives is both believable and heartfelt and she offers up some of The Keeper’s most poignant moments.
The plot omits a few interesting details and events of Trautmann’s life, such as two successful prison camp escapes prior to the events shown, and glosses over other less idealistic parts of his later life, which I won’t reveal to avoid spoiling the story that is presented.
It also never mentions the family he seemed to quite readily leave behind in Germany. At two hours of reasonably slow pacing though, The Keeper feels long enough, so it’s likely a few scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
The film focuses far more on Trautmann’s life and struggles, particularly with being accepted as a post-war German living in England, than it does on the sport he played, so if you were expecting a whole lot of match-action, consider this you’re yellow card.
The Keeper is a surprisingly broad-spectrum sports star biopic, which provides a glimpse into what life was like for boys who found themselves fighting a war they weren’t ready for and the impacts it had for years to come: on themselves, the bereaved and country relations. This true tale of love and forgiveness (somewhat ironically) emphasises the need to live in the moment rather than in the past and claims a victory by being both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
If you need to catch your breath after so many big blockbusters and reboots (or were never into those in the first place) then The Keeper might be just the ticket you need to save you from movie fatigue.
SEE IT if…
You can’t get enough of the handsome and talented David Kross
You’ve heard of Trautmann
SKIP IT if…
You thought Stuber was a 5-star film
You’ve recently lost a loved one
It gets 3.5 stars out of 5.
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