Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Dir. Uli Edel
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 150mins

Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex appears to be, to it's own detriment, incredibly thorough. It is ferociously directed, well-acted and feels like it's barreling ahead at breakneck speed, and yet in it's desire to become the Forrest Gump of movies about the German RAF movement it suffers from it's own heavy weight and what could have been a blisteringly exciting exploration of history eventually becomes over-wrought.

German cinema is quickly becoming some of my favourites, and for a good portion of Baader Meinhof's 150 minute running time I felt it slotted right in, but while the running time might not suggest anything truly exhausting - there have been far worse movies that ran far longer - Edel and writer Bernd Eichinger have tried to fit every single noteworthy moment of the infamous Red Army Faction's first ten years of existence that it becomes obvious there is just too much. And since the first hour - I checked - is so pulse-elevating, there's only so much of that I could take. There are moments that I felt could have been easily excised such as a sojourn to an army training course in the desert. Nothing comes out of it except to slow the film down.

Reliving the years between the group's creation in 1967 to the infamous "German Autumn" in 1977, that climaxed with the hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane, the film follows the RAF's major creative forces, Ulrike Meinhof (an excellent Martina Gedeck), Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek in another of the film's finer performances) as they plot, scheme and carry out acts of terrorism on the German government. Beginning with a claustrophobic and terrifying riot sequence Edel sets a frenetic pace. Much like the similar events that were portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Munich (which has a bit of cross plotting to Complex) it is so interesting to see this period portrayed on screen. Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann is clean and polished while Alexander Berner's editing really shines.

However as so many differing schemes and battle start going on involving characters who know characters who we don't know and it all becomes too heavy for the film to handle. The events begin to confuse and become hard to follow unless you're already aware of the timeline that is transpiring. The lack of any insight into the personal lives of these characters outside of a brief flash or two towards the start is particularly frustrating since the brief moments we do see - especially Meinhof's relationship with her children once she joins the militant group - are fascinating. It's hard to figure out why Baader was so influential over this group of people since he comes off as a horrible wretch of a human being for long periods of the film. Surely these characters - and there are indeed a lot of them - didn't speak radicalism 24/7 with brief interludes for discussions about guns, explosives and the evils of their government.

Edel hasn't made a cinematic drama since Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1989, instead focusing on episodic television and TV movies. By seemingly modelling his film on Hollywood movies he has fallen into the same traps that they do by not realising that just because he has the means to film everything and put it on screen doesn't mean he should. Although, to be perfectly honest, I think that is a problem with the screenplay, based on the non-fiction novel by Stefan Aust, and not Edel's direction, which is very impressive and there is plenty to recommend here from the acting to the technical skills on display. It just would have been far more effective if the fat had been trimmed from it. B-

The Baader Meinhof Complex is released 7 May and is in preview screenings this weekend.

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