September 18, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Baader Meinhof Complex' -- GRADE: B

Brutal 'Complex' needs historical context

Johanna Wokalek and Mortiz Bleibtreau are German radicals against everything. (Vitagraph Films)

It's a little disconcerting to think that modern western terrorism may have been popularized by some hot German babes and their bad boyfriends, but that's pretty much what happened according to the brutal "The Baader Meinhof Complex."

Baader Meinhof was a radical group of political punks with guns, back in the late '60s, sort of the Manson family of Germany but with grander political aspirations and much better planning. Director Uli Edel follows the original group's bombings, assassinations and robberies and then, when you think it's all over and the gang's busted, he follows the crop of sympathetic terrorists who keep joining up for more mayhem.

The movie is two-and-a-half never-restful hours long, but then Baader Meinhof -- or the Red Army Faction, as they preferred -- went along its bloody way for almost two decades.

There are some literally killer performances here, most notably Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun, girlfriend of hot-tempered Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and the glue that held the original group together. Her fury comes right through the screen.

Unfortunately, the film never fully taps into the root of such fury. Sure these were Hitler's grandkids and Germany was again becoming repressive when they lashed out. But a few more personal notes might have strengthened things.

As it is, "Baader Meinhof" is a distressing parade of pistol-wielding protestors who seem to have no clear objective in mind other than the overthrow of everything. In 1969, that was a common political attitude; a few years later, it seemed downright silly.

But, as "Baader Meinhof" shows, the violence went on. As it does now, with different players in too many different places.

tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879