Imagine if Hollywood decided to tell the story of 1960s revolutionary group the Weather Underground. The screenwriters take great care to include the group’s beginnings as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the “Days of Rage” demonstration, the bombings and the group’s eventual implosion. Now pretend that the studio then assigns Michael Bay to the project and casts Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Zac Efron as the young firebrands. Does this sound like a solid representation to you?
That’s the equivalent of what this German film does regarding journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck), charismatic activist Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu) and the group of like-minded subversives that become known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. The movie does offer context for the social ideology that fueled Deustchland’s folk heroes—or, depending on who you ask, terrorists—courtesy of a global spirit-of-’68 montage. But while director Uli Edel doesn’t downplay the gang’s bad decisions, he does manage to combine the worst elements of both reductive biopics and bloated blockbusters. Even the casting of Teutonic cinema all-stars as lefty extremists wouldn’t be so bad if Edel didn’t have them running around like action heroes to a squealing guitar soundtrack. This isn’t revisionist history; it’s a key moment in political radicalism reduced to an empty pop-cultural posture.—David Fear
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