DUDES WEARING T-shirts with Che on them might've heard of the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF), but most Americans born after 1975 won't have. The CliffsNotes (FritzNotes?) version: With Germany split in two following WWII, West German radicals had plenty of reasons to be grumpy. Their parents and grandparents had been part of Hitler's Germany, after all, and the tumult of postwar Germany combined with the countercultural surge of the '60s created a nationwide pressure cooker. Revolution butted up against complacency, history clashed with progress, things blew up, people died.

The visceral thriller-slash-drama about the RAF, The Baader Meinhof Complex, does a decent enough job of outlining the group's history—but ultimately, it's a story of what happens when people place ideals above principles. First philosophers, then criminals, and finally celebrities, the members of the RAF achieved a level of notoriety usually reserved for Dieter or David Hasselhoff.

Told largely via the perspective of Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck)—a journalist who left behind her family and career to become one of the key figures of the RAF—Baader Meinhof is a tense, chilling examination of why people turn to violence. It's a movie about terrorism, in other words, and while it might work just fine as a history lesson, it'd be foolish to overlook its contemporary significance.