The name Moritz Bleibtreu means little to American moviegoers, so imagine the volcanic early Jack Nicholson. Bleibtreu plays Andreas Baader, a volatile West German thug who led a terrorist gang called the Red Army Faction. His struggles to smash the state seem like the temper tantrums of a gun-slinging infant.
He and former radical journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) were the Bonnie and Clyde of 1970s West German radical chic. Between his outlaw allure and her propaganda skills, they mesmerized a cadre of European student radicals for decades. Director Uli Edel’s quasi-documentary account of their crime spree is similarly hypnotic.
The film is rigorously intelligent, carefully establishing the social environment and the cult mentality that gave root to domestic terrorism. A visit to Berlin by the Shah of Iran turns into a melee as mounted police brutalize peaceful demonstrators (an impeccably staged eruption of bloodshed, the first of many). In response to a perceived campaign of assassination by conservative forces, leftists begin forming cells of urban guerrillas to fight violence with violence.
The film succeeds where so many political pictures have failed because of its concentration on the thriller aspects of the story. Rather than worrying about which faction launched what operation, the audience becomes wrapped up in whether or not a character will survive a shooting or fall from a speeding car.
This is a gripping history lesson on the birth of modern terrorism, a haunting examination of ideology morphing into psychopathology, and an intense political roller-coaster ride.
Cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck.
Director: Uli Edel.
Screenwriters: Uli Edel, Bernd Eichinger. Based on the book by Stefan Aust.
Producer: Bernd Eichinger.
A Vitagraph Films release. Running time: 144 minutes. Violence, sexual content, nudity and language. In German and Italian with English subtitles. Playing at: In Miami-Dade: Cosford, Intracoastal, South Beach; Broward: Sunrise; Palm Beach: Shadowood, Mizner, Delray.