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DVD Review: Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

Baader You might know the name, but do you really know about the Baader Meinhof gang? You will after nearly three hours of the Baader Meinhof Complex.

Personally, I've been looking forward to catching this movie for a long, long time - I missed it during its brief tour of the UK's arthouse cinemas last year, so the DVD was a 'must'. And overall, I'm not disappointed, although your take on it might depend on your stamina and love of foreign language flicks.

The Baader Meinhof Complex is certainly a well-made piece of work, based on the factual book by Stefan Aust and directed by Uli Edel (the man behind the big screen version of drug shocker Christiane F.), it uses both period film and some incredible recreations of events to bring together the various strands of political unrest from the late 60s (including a particularly brutal scene around the visit of the Shah of Iran to West Germany and the attempted assassination of left wing activitist Rudi Dutschke), showing how each of the gang's leading lights are drawn into conflict with the authorities and indeed, drawn together.

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The background is the perception of West German policy during the late 60s - many students opposed what they saw as a return to right wing politics, citing the support of the USA in Vietnam and the opposition of Palestinians in Isreal as prime examples of their government's leanings. Not only that, but the authorities (as the Iran demo showed) were quick to clamp down on any unrest, supported by what was seen as a strongly right wing media. Inevitably it led to extremism and violence.

Both Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) were already taking on mainstream society, even if it was just planting bombs in department stores in a fight against consumerism. When they're caught for that, their case is taken up by Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), who is drawn into the conflict when she assists in the brutal breakout of Baader - forming the nucleus of the gang in the process. They flee the country and head to a terrorist camp in Jordan - returning to Germany to start a campaign of bloody terror against the country's institutions.

Over a period of time, all the gang are captured or killed (both by luck and the judgement of police chief Horst Herold), with the leaders facing a long, drawn-out trial before death (suicide or otherwise, it's left intentionally ambiguous) makes the any final verdict academic.

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Yes, it does sound hard going and at times it is, but it's also entertaining and informative at the same time. And if you want action, you'll find plenty here. Indeed at times, it's easy to forget you're watching a serious political drama, with plenty of Tarantino-style shoot outs plus some high-speed car chases giving the Baader Meinhof Complex real impact. And whether the director intended it or not, the gang are seriously cool. They look good they drive fast cars and they they're willing to die for their cause. What's not to like?

Well, the gang members for a start. Director Edel might have upped the excitement levels, but he's certainly made sure you get the characters 'warts n all' - the psychotic Baader is portrayed as more of a killer than a freedom fighter, while the rest of the Red Army Faction come across as urban guerillas without any real cause or end game (especially as the world changes around them), highlighted by the succession of chaotic hijackings, kidnappings and murders carried out in the gang's name in 1977, just before the demise of the three leaders.

The deaths of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin do provide an end point for the movie, but their long periods of incarceration and the lengthy trial also provide the movie's weak point. You see, without a 'Bonnie and Clyde' ending, we're left with an essentially dull, drawn out sequence of events that include a lot discussions in prison cells, a rather dull court case and far too many 'new' gang members appearing on the scene who we barely get introduced to. The result is a good 45 minutes of movie that you really could do without, unless you're watching as part of a modern history degree.

But don't let that put you off too much. If your stamina is good and you can handle a lengthy session with subtitles, you'll find much to appreciate here. A very stylish film, plenty of action and a history lesson thrown in for free. It has its flaws, but the Baader Meinhof Complex is certainly worthy of both your attention and your cash.

Find out more about the DVD at Amazon.co.uk

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