Review: The Baader Meinhof Complex

Vinzenz Kiefer, Bernd Stegemann and Hannes Wegener in “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

Dir. Uli Edel. 184 minutes.

In the 1960s and ’70s, West Germany was the site of a terrorist bombing campaign — not by Islamists or even neo-Nazis, but by members of the “Red Army Faction,” a sect of left-wing urban guerrillas who targeted banks, government offices and U.S. military bases. Led by the chisel-jawed Andreas Baader and once-respectable journalist Ulrike Meinhof, the RAF fought capitalism and looked good doing it, fielding a surprising degree of public support.

Despite its politically rarefied subject matter, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” plays like “The Dark Knight”: a gritty, tense thriller that grounds its frequently bizarre subject matter with a matter-of-fact style. One action scene features a young woman pulling an enormous machine gun out of a baby carriage — the sort of thing that would provoke laughter if not for the film’s otherwise clear commitment to realism. The cast are uniformly excellent, particularly Martina Gedeck as the finicky intellectual Meinhof, and Moritz Bleibtreu, who bulked up to play the Marxist he-man Andreas Baader.

Also of note is the film’s superb sound design. These cracking, shattering, thundering shoot-outs and bombings did not emerge from a sound library. Each whipping of a stray bullet or fracturing of a window feels spontaneous, random and immediate. Some critics complained that “The Baader Meinhof Complex” glamorized its Molotov-throwing antiheroes, but the fact is that the Red Army Faction terrorists — many of whom were youthful, female and smartly dressed — were glamorous already. If the story and personalities of “The Baader Meinhof Complex” seem unbelievable, it’s only because truth is stranger than fiction.