It’s perhaps fitting that “Baader,” Christopher Roth’s sure-to-be-controversial biopic about ’70s West German celebrity terrorist Andreas Baader and his rise from small-time car thief to leader of the Marxist revolutionary Red Army Faction, uses only his surname in the title. Just as “Baader” is only part of his full name, pic can’t provide a complete, incisive profile of the man. However, terrific period verisimilitude, and the kind of wild and woolly visual approach favored by Oliver Stone in his so-called biopics, should result in strong local biz and subsequent attention wherever German society is a subject of interest or antiheroes sell tickets.
Film raises more questions than it answers about what really happened during West Germany’s “Decade of Terror” from 1968 to 1977, when the Baader-Meinhof Gang shot and bombed its way into local folklore as a kind of leftist Bonnie & Clyde. Just as it would be ill advised to use “JFK” as a teaching tool, “Baader” plays fast and loose with the facts. It should be viewed strictly as stylish, shallow entertainment.
Pic opens in 1972, as a chance traffic stop in Cologne spells the beginning of the end of the four-year crusade by Baader (Frank Giering) to stamp out capitalism and return to a socialist-based society. Time then shifts back to 1967 to lay the groundwork for his improbable rise to revolutionary theorist.
Along with g.f. Gudrun Ensslin (Laura Tonke), long considered the true co-leader of the gang, he firebombs a Frankfurt department store and flees to Paris after six months in prison. Returning to Germany and jail, he’s sprung by famous journalist-turned-social activist Ulrike Meinhof — thus minting the gang’s name and its growing reputation.
The brightest and funniest sequence finds them training at a terrorist camp in Jordan. Exasperated with Baader’s insistence that the gang be able to sleep together and sunbathe in the nude, the Palestinian leaders throw them out.
The height of the collective’s violent activity was in the period from summer ’70 to their capture in mid-’72. Dotted with date and place titles, pic breathlessly recounts the escalation of their activities to audacious bombings in newspaper buildings, American military bases and German police stations (the dead include four U.S. servicemen).
Stepping in with his own agenda is Nuremberg police chief Kurt Krone (Vadim Glowna). Pic’s most provocative scene finds Baader and Krone actually meeting along a deserted stretch of nighttime roadway. “Everyone does what he does best,” says the top cop. But “if you hadn’t killed anyone you might have achieved your goals.”
Relaxing the grip on facts may serve to heighten the drama, but that doesn’t explain the film’s jaw-dropping climax in which Baader is gunned down in a Butch-and-Sundance hail of police bullets. In fact, Baader, along with Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, was either killed or committed suicide (the truth has never emerged) on Oct. 18, 1977, at Stammheim prison, where his various trials were dragging ever onwards.
Even at his most swaggering, Giering brings a sense of haunted turmoil to Baader, embracing Baader’s apparently rampant contradictions while at times looking strikingly like actor Kiefer Sutherland. Glowna’s world-weary slyness is a fine counterbalance, and the rest of the cast succeeds in underscoring not only the rather refreshing passion of the movement but also the naive youth of its members.
Tech credits are meticulous, with Roth’s blocking of actors and the slightly faded images of co-lensers Jutta Pohlmann and Bella Halben creating strong echoes of the period’s cinema. A much more accurate recounting of events can be found in Reinhard Hauff’s 1986 German drama “Stammheim.”