30 September 2008 | ChrisWasser
Better than most critics want to admit
I agree with the other comments on the following points: the film does indeed concentrate on the culprits and their actions in a documentary way (as opposed to an interpretation of the RAF's ideas and motivations from a clear-cut political standpoint). Although the victims DO appear they are not characterized more closely; the only representative of the state is Horst Herold (head of the BKA), politicians do not show up at all, the media appear only in the shape of Springer, konkret and Spiegel and even the lawyers (Haag, Croissant, Schily, Ströbele, etc.) are merged into only one (fictitious?) character. I for one do agree with this approach and if you are prepared for it you probably can live with it too. In any case, despite all the chases, shootouts and explosions it hasn't become a mere action-film.
What's more problematic is that the film follows the book by Stefan Aust VERY closely. Therefore the dramaturgy is more similar to "real life" than to a classical feature film (e.g. there are many changes in pace, several climaxes are distributed over the course of the film and a proper arc of suspense is somewhat missing). "Fortunately" real life offered a culmination of events with the Schleyer kidnapping in the "German Autumn" 1977, so that the film ends in a reasonably satisfying way. Nevertheless the end credits come a little abruptly.
The second problem is that the film tries to show virtually ALL events from the book (only some minor incidents like the Mahler detention, Peter Urbach, the burglaries in registration offices in order to steal blank passports or the visit of Jean-Paul Sartre in Stammheim are missing) so that it needs to squeeze 10 years of history into 140 minutes. The result is a film with breakneck speed at some points. The better scenes (e.g. the training camp in Jordan or the lawsuit in Stammheim) are obviously those where the film catches breath, calms down and takes its time for the actors to shine.
The quality of the acting ranges from good to fantastic (with very few exceptions like Alexandra Maria Lara, who is nothing more than wide-eyed again and who thankfully doesn't even have dialogue). Especially Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek are sensational. It is THEIR film and the conflicts in Stammheim which led to Meinhof's suicide are acted Oscar-worthy. But Michael Gwisdek (Ensslin's father), Jan Josef Liefers (Peter Homann), Sebastian Blomberg (Rudi Dutschke), Nadja Uhl (Brigitte Mohnhaupt) and Hannah Herzsprung (Susanne Albrecht) are also very good.
The production values are excellent too. A lot of locations, a great deal of main and supporting roles, hundreds of extras, good special effects (mainly explosions) and a set design and costume design which creates a very coherent 70's atmosphere: you can see that the film cost a lot of money. Every cent is on the screen.
I didn't like the choice of music that much. Deep Purple's "Child in Time" is always great to hear, but the rest (Janis Joplin, The Who, Bob Dylan) is just too mainstreamy and unimaginative for my taste (but probably also very expensive). Why not use MC5, Ton Steine Scherben or Ennio Morricone's "Vamos a matar, companeros"?
Now I'm looking forward to the reactions and reviews from other countries, who probably don't know this part of German history very well. In the US I expect the criticism that there are too many naked people, too many swear words and even more cigarettes (every one in BMK smokes everywhere and at all times), in order to distract from the politics of the film ;-) "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" isn't the masterpiece on the history of the first generation of the RAF that I had hoped for in my comments on "Todesspiel", but altogether it is a very suspenseful, fascinating, densely narrated and well acted film. Hopefully it will not be the last word on the subject, but it succeeds in giving the audience the basic RAF knowledge on which future (less neutral, more opinionated) movies can build their stories.