Soap opera in the sky

The Red Baron

on March 24, 2010 by Sara Schieron
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On the nose dialogue and drab to occasionally unclear direction pegs this as a high-budget movie of the week, yet this German film is an English-language production made for international distribution and one can see how its overtly soapy, lowest-common-denominator antics would play comfortably in various climes. This historic epic about the famous World War I flying ace (of lore and Peanuts fame) features some fairly beautiful locations and costumes but performances and schmaltzy, pat storyline dilutes most desired effects. While the so-called Red Baron was an invention of passionate debate and vicious rumor, this biopic may leave audiences cold—still, with distribution plans this ambitious, there’s no way distributors won’t make some reasonable coin.

Manfred von Richthofen a.k.a. The Red Baron (Matthias Schweighöfer) sees his life as a fighter pilot in terms of sport, which suits this jaunty, upperclass playboy just fine. Fancying himself humane and fairly idealist (he’s 24 years old), he tracks down the planes he’s shot out of the sky to keep tabs of his kills, take banner souvenirs and save the wounded. The first wounded we see him save is a Yank fighting for the Brits (Joseph Fiennes poorly channeling Michael Fassbinder in Inglourious Basterds). Instead of leaving well enough alone this Yank, a simply named Captain Roy Brown, takes out a sporting vendetta. They shoot to kill and let their cock-certainly duke it out with their human streak. The Baron grasps the power of lore and paints his plane red—as maintaining the uniformity of standard issue equipment is important to the German army, this was a considerable affront. Who is specifically responsible for other historical notations (who distributed the headshots of the Baron to other pilots as if for targeting, or whether or not the German leaders were in charge of turning him into a bloodthirsty propaganda celebrity are handled with a fair amount of historical reservation and attention to the tenuousness of myths: if we had answers, we’d have no need for lore, so the film makes every effort to preserve certain evident mysteries. A perfunctory and unreasonable romance with a nurse (Lena Headey, even more wooden than she was in 300) ensues. Legends are born and die, history is made and repeated and war erodes common decency. One thing that’s reliable about soap operas is that they’re reliable.

It’s hard to tell if director/screenwriter Nikolai Müllerschön is unimaginative or so willfully dedicated to his international distribution deal that he’s bleached the film of any energy, uniqueness or creative potential—the value of the film as empty product is hard to ignore, and that’s if you choose not to be derailed by Lena Headey’s unmotivated appearances or Til Schweiger’s thoroughly modern action-hero in the middle of turn of a squadron of century dandy pilots. If you have a fascination for the character the film may be worth your while, but if your interest is film, you’ll be left in the cold in too many ways to warrant attendance.

Distributor: Monterey Media
Cast: Matthias Schweighöfer, Maxim Mehmet, Til Schweiger, Joseph Fiennes and Lena Headey
Director/Screenwriter: Nikolai Müllerschön
Producers: Nikolai Müllerschön, Dan Maag, Roland Pellegrino and Thomas Reisser
Genre: Historical Drama
Rating: PG-13 for war violence, some disturbing images and brief suggestive material.
Running time: 129 min.
Release date: March 19 LA

Tags: foreign, military, war, German, Matthias Schweighöfer, Maxim Mehmet, Til Schweiger, Joseph Fiennes, Lena Headey, Nikolai Müllerschön, pilot, historical
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