This movie is more of a character piece than a chronicle of World War I’s most famous flying ace. The characterization also gets poured into the baron and his nurse almost exclusively. Most of the other cast are flat set pieces waiting to perform their obligatory scene or two. It is hard to go in to this movie with the right expectations. That is what tripped me up a bit and probably others as well.
The filmmakers either assume the viewers know all about the Red Baron and his exploits, or they just do not care. They did not make the effort to fill the viewer in on them, nor explain the context of any major action scenes. On two occasions the baron gets to meet the German kaiser himself. While the filmmakers obviously did not care to show Wilhelm in a positive light, the meetings seemed strange and surreal. Perhaps they were too staged. They undermined the immersion the movie was trying to build.
Lena Headey is a fine looking woman. Some may give the movie heat over the fact that she is older than the stripling baron and plays his girlfriend. Her attractiveness is not in question, rather that the baron barely looks out of middle school. If the filmmakers wanted to go for that kind of realism they should have thought the casting out more thoroughly. Better yet, I watched this movie partially because Headey was in it, so find a more fitting baron why don’t you? If you are used to thinking of her as the hot and tough mom from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I can see it being more difficult accepting her in this role.
The sets were decent but not very challenging. The airplane props were well done and so was the CGI flying, what there was of it. Yes, a movie about the most famous dogfighting era that did not include much dogfighting. When it was time for one of the pilots to die (and that seemed the main purpose to them all), it always seemed to happen off screen. So if you will pardon the pun the most famous air unit in history, The Flying Circus, pretty much flies right below the radar and your attention throughout this movie. It is so close, and you only get brief out-of-context glimpses of it.
Out-of-context? Yes. The movie seems to move along dropping out months at a time with nary a warning. Is the new pilot still green? Is he now a vet? Which one is he again? They are just not filled in enough. On the bright side the movie made the interesting and true point about the code of chivalry many of the WWI pilots adhered to. Also it noted how related the armies of Europe were at the time, and how cousins abounded through the ranks on both sides.
The Red Baron is an anti-war piece, and a bit of a downer. While there is room and need out there for such films, I am sorry that the message overwhelmed the most interesting but sadly undefined circumstances. By doing so the filmmakers undermined and confused the very setting used to carry their message. Still, if you are interested in the era, or are a historical flying buff, or into anti-war films or just like Lena Headey I would consider giving Der Rote Baron a try.