Adventures in Netflix! Episode 22: The Red Baron

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Ah, it feels good to be writing one of these after a two week (longer, since this is two days late) hiatus. Today on Adventures in Netflix! I’ll be reviewing the 2008 German biopic/action movie The Red Baron, a fairly decent movie that unfortunately suffers from its chosen style of storytelling.

As one might guess from the title, The Red Baron is the story of, you guessed it, the Red Baron, aka Manfred von Richthofan (Mathias Schweighöfer), the famous WWI German pilot. After a brief scene from Richthofan’s childhood, the movie jumps right into the midst of World War I, and the height of his career as a pilot. The movie then follows him through the war and his burgeoning romance with Käte Otersdorf (Lena Headey), a disillusioned nurse in the German military.

The Red Baron struggles in its beginning, particularly with its character introductions. This is due largely to the movie’s jerky pacing, a side effect of the ambitious attempt made at covering such a long stretch of time–two highly eventful years– in the narrow confines of a feature length film. For the first half hour or so The Red Baron feels more like a collection of loosely related scenes than a coherent movie, barely spending any time in one place before abruptly shifting focus to the next poorly contextualized dogfight, or conversation, or character introduction.

The Red Baron, aka Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen. Or as his friends call him, Manny.

The pacing does even out some by the halfway mark, and the movie manages to, eventually, make you care about the characters, but I feel like the film could have benefited from taking a little more time in the beginning instead of barreling through at breakneck speed.

Once you get past the pacing issues, the story itself is actually quite compelling, if a bit standard. Richthofan’s character arc, the cold hearted solder who, for the love of a woman, learns to see the world in a new light, is a well trodden but effective archetype.

As for the acting, well… I have mixed feelings. The actors all seem competent, and there were several scenes in which I found the performances genuinely moving, but as a whole there was something stiff about everything, something unnatural and forced. Maybe it has  to do with the fact that, despite being a German film starring mostly all German actors, all of the dialogue is delivered in English. But what ever the  reason, there was a woodenness in most of the performances that makes it more difficult than it ought to be to connect with the characters.

Richthofen’s squadron, made up of Germany’s finest pilots.

The Red Baron actually is less of an action movie than I expected, from both the poster art and the trailers I have vague memories of seeing back when the movie released in the US. That’s not to say there’s no action–there are several reasonably exciting  dogfights–but these scenes don’t feel like the focus of the movie.

Ah, biplanes, the convertible of the sky. Nothing but you, the clouds, and the wind in your hair.

All in all The Red Baron is a movie that, while perfectly fine, fails to live up to both its potential and its opinion of itself. If you’re in the mood for an action movie with a dash of romance you could do a lot worse than The Red Baron.    However, you could also do better.

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