By at September 12, 2009 | 2:47 pm | Print

posted by Norm Schrager, 09.12.09
3.5 / 5 stars

The Baader Meinhof Complex Movie PosterIn the midst of the worldwide political turbulence of the 1960s, a West German revolutionary group called the Red Army Faction was deadly serious. Protests were mere child’s play for them; hostage-taking, bank robberies and murder were more their style. German director Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn) chronicles the birth (and many deaths) of the Red Army Faction in this Oscar-nominated mini-epic, an exciting film that benefits from impressive scope — but lacks real depth or viewpoint.

Are we meant to side with the actions of Baader and Meinhof, the unlikely RAF partners of the title? Are we supposed to condemn their brutality? Should we be impressed with their sacrificial dedication? It’s unclear here, but that can be a good thing. Without a clear editorial leaning, The Baader Meinhof Complex acts as more of a strong historic document than a narrative tale, further supported by Edel’s slick use of actual newsreel and TV footage from the time.

Scene from The Baader Meinhof Complex

But the filmmaker’s choice to establish that distance doesn’t work for character portrayal — the characters certainly command our attention, but their personas and interactions remain surface. So we remain coldly on the outside for 2 1/2 hours.

Instead, a level of involvement can be chalked up to a strong set of performances and Edel’s talent for handling chaotic violence, be it a massive police beatdown or a point-blank one-on-one shooting. The funnel of this ongoing revolutionary storm is Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu from Run, Lola, Run and Spielberg’s Munich). Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck and Baader and MeinhofHe’s a chest-thumping, late 60s Fascist fighter who has no problem taking down others in terrorist acts because he has no trouble dying in the process. If he were around in the 2000s, the press would’ve named him Baader the Badass. I’m sure of it.

One of his stranger recruits is Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, The Good Shepherd), a well-to-do columnist who turns her written opinions into real action after interviewing Baader’s fierce girlfriend, Gudrun (Vera Farmiga lookalike Johanna Wokalek, co-star of 1999’s Aimee and Jaguar).

Once the players are in place — we get a smallish first act conveying Meinhof’s lush life as a married journalist — the movie plays like an exercise in how to film action. Police chases, break-ins, shootouts… it all moves very well, and thankfully lacks any Hollywood sheen, but it starts to take over the entire exposition of the film, as if Edel were running down a checklist of RAF activity to cover. As the group’s leaders globetrot, and their story evolves into the 1970s, compressing or removing a violent action or two would’ve been a fine, smart way to tighten up the film.

The Baader Meinhof Complex Trailer

Which gets us back to the movie’s flaws. No doubt, objectivity can be tough to achieve when your protagonists are killers. But by the film’s final paces, when Baader, Meinhof and Gudrun literally have their backs to the wall, more character dimension would go a long way. Sure, it would require a balancing act to give us some of their life without urging cheap sympathy, but it would have been worth it.

In the film’s early stages, one could argue the anti-Fascists were attracting new members in ways not unlike the Nazis — some greater depth into an idea like that would turn The Baader Meinhof Complex into something far more complex. Still, recommended as a raw, hell-be-damned time capsule.

Find theaters showing The Baader Meinhof Complex
Check out the book: Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F.

Share your comments
Like this post? DIGG IT

Reviews Trailers

One Comment

  1. Luke, 8 years ago Reply

    I’m a big fan of this film. Extremely entertaining and thought provoking. Highly recommended

Leave a Reply