The Weathermen and the Black Panthers terrified many in America’s “silent majority” of the 60s and 70s and, of course, resurfaced as right-wing bogeymen during the 2008 election. Still, our relatively timid terrorists were complete pantywaists compared to the vastly more deadly, focused, and entirely co-ed German Baader Meinhof gang. This grimly disciplined, ideologically inflexible group of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist “New Left” ideologues was not about “palling around” with anyone.
Directed by Uli Edel and with a sharp screenplay co-written by producer Bernd Eichinger, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” takes a similar approach as Eichinger’s previous historical work as a writer-producer, “Downfall” — now famed as the source of all those Internet videos featuring Hitler (Bruno Ganz) ranting in his bunker about video games, ‘net problems, and the like. Ganz is back in a far kinder and gentler role as the keenly intelligent head of the German police tasked with capturing the gang. Still, this is a true ensemble piece as Martina Gedick, Moritz Bleibtrau, Johana Wokalek and others portray the nucleus of the so-called “Red Army Faction,” whose attempt to spark a revolution while protesting the Vietnam War and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians starts at bank robbing and takes increasingly murderous turns from there. Eichinger and Edel’s historical epic starts somewhat slowly, but at more than 2 1/2 hours, this Oscar-nominated combination of documentary ultra-realism a la “The Battle of Algiers” with Paul Greengrass-style slam-bam action film makes for a bracing work.