Europe, 1916. A living legend (aged 24) performing amazing dogfights and aerial stunts, flies in on painted wings to become famous the world over. For millions of his countrymen, he becomes an idol, a symbol of hope and pride.
Baron Manfred von Richthofen (MATTHIAS SCHWEIGHOFER) is the crack pilot of the German aerial combat forces a legend in his own time, a hero at home and a man both feared and respected by the enemy, including Allied Forces Canadian pilot, Captain Roy Brown (JOSEPH FIENNES). He and his fellow officers, Lieutenants Voss (TIL SCHWEIGER), Sternberg (MAXIM MEHMET) and Lehmann (HANNO KOFFLER) see their duels in the sky as tactical, almost sportsmanlike, clever challenges that, at least at first, obscure their view of the horrors of the battlefields below. And the provocative red paint job of his Fokker aircraft earns him the nickname The Red Baron.
Unwittingly, he allows the German high command to manipulate his chivalrous code of honor and misuse him for propaganda purposes until the young pilot falls in love with Kate (LENA HEADEY), a beautiful and resolute nurse who opens his eyes to the tragic fact that there is more to war than dogfights won and adversaries downed. Baron von Richthofen finally becomes aware of his role in the propaganda machine of a senseless and barbarous war.
With a torn heart, despite the heavy losses in his squadron and his disgust for the war and his responsibility to his fighter wing, von Richthofen cannot help but fly. But even for this living legend, each new combat mission could be his last...
World War I fighter ace the Red Baron (Valkyrie
's Matthias Schweighöfer) comes to life in this pretty, if perfunctory docudrama. The opening credits establish Baron Manfred von Richthofen's childhood interest in flight. Flash forward to 1916, and the German lieutenant belongs to a combat squad that includes his friend Voss (Til Schweiger, Inglourious Basterds
). After von Richthofen shoots down Canadian pilot Roy Brown (Joseph Fiennes), he meets French field nurse Käte (Lena Headey, The Sarah Connor Chronicles
), who helps to save Captain Brown. Between missions, Manfred tries to win Käte over, but she's a tough sell (and the boyish Schweighöfer looks too young for Headey). Believing that it's better to scare the enemy than to sneak up on them, von Richthofen paints his craft crimson, leading to a legendary nickname (and making a significant impression on Peanuts
creator Charles Schultz). At this point, the coincidences--and the casualties--start to accumulate. When the Baron runs into Brown the next year, the latter encourages him to pursue Käte. Von Richthofen gets his chance after suffering a head injury (surely other nurses served in northern France), and a love affair ensues as he continues to lose colleagues. Through Käte, the Baron comes to realize that his superiors see him more as a propaganda tool than as a human being, but he's in too deep to turn back. "You," he tells Käte toward the end, "are my greatest victory." Like that line, Nikolai Müllerschön's English-language debut registers more as romantic fantasy than as a believable portrayal of a real person. --Kathleen C. Fennessy