Munich

"Excellent"

Munich Review


It's been a long, tough road watching Steven Spielberg grow up. Too often, the great Hollywood money machine seemed to flip self-consciously back and forth between his serious work (Schindler's List) and the popcorn flicks (The Lost World, The Terminal). For better or for worse, though, 2005 will be remembered as the year when Spielberg finally and resoundingly merged these twin desires into unified works of serious entertainment, first his stunning War of the Worlds, and now Munich, a less complete piece of work, perhaps, but the most ambitious of Spielberg's career and truly something to behold.

What makes Munich even more ambitious than films like List or even Empire of the Sun is that it's not as recognizable a film as those classically-structured epics. This film is part spy thriller and part meditation on violence but not completely either. The result comes out as somewhat scrambled by the end, with the pieces of about a half-dozen lesser movies mixed around inside, but there's rarely a moment when it's not grabbing you by the collar and demanding your undivided attention. We should have more of this kind of thing.

Munich is based on the aftermath of the September 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September. A long and harrowing reenactment brings the whole sordid and sad spectacle back to life, most vividly the infuriating ease with which the terrorists pulled it off and the Germans' pathetically disorganized response. The film jumps to Israel, where Golda Meier (played with stiff brio by the indomitable Lynn Cohen) lectures the tense military and intelligence men gathered around: "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." The members of Black September are identified, photos shuffled about, files collected, and a team assembled, to kill them all.

The first sign that this is not going to be a Bruckheimer revenge fantasy is the mournful tone which this first stretch takes, no chest-thumping adrenaline-stoking, just an inevitable countdown to death. The ad hoc group Mossad puts together for the mission are even less action-film-ready, the team's head, Avner (Eric Bana, soulful and wounded-looking), a quiet family man who just wants to get back to his pregnant wife. But nevertheless, they all find themselves in Europe, no contact with Israel save for a safety deposit box occasionally refilled with cash ("I want receipts!" barks one Mossad officer at Avner), a list of men to take out, and no clue how long it will take.

Much of Munich follows the team's long campaign of assassination, as they track the Black Septemberists from one European city to the other. The morbid ends of this campaign are verifiable by historical fact - one man killed by a bomb in his telephone and another by a booby-trapped mattress - but the how had to be mostly concocted by screenwriters Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Eric Roth, since the Mossad isn't telling. Given that Kushner has more experience exploring the soul on a Broadway stage than in staging cloak-and-dagger missions, it's not surprising that occasionally the film's thriller element goes wanting. However, it's still exhilarating to see how this John Le Carre-era spycraft was conducted in the old, pre-digital days, how resolutely hands-on and improvised it had to be.

It's not just the '70s accoutrements that bring to mind Le Carre, however, there's also the moral shadings of grey which Kushner and Spielberg wash the film in. At the beginning of the mission, one of the team worries about thinking of himself as an assassin, only to be curtly told, "Think of yourself as something else, then," a poor solution at best. While Munich never explicitly questions the validity of Israel's right to assassinate the Palestinians - which will likely earn the film condemnation from many quarters - it also never wavers from showing the devilish effects of what the campaign does to the men who wage it. It isn't long before the team is being hunted by unnamed people, buying information on them from the same ideology-free dealers that Avner buys intel on Black September from. Also, for every man they kill, a worse replacement is quickly found, and the Palestinians' terror campaigns just continue. Haunted by his mission of death, Avner asks his contact Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush, brilliant) what the point is of killing these men if they'll only be replaced; Ephraim's real-world response is simply, "Why cut my fingernails? They'll just grow back."

This is a film that leads you in loops, denying easy answers. Just as one starts to wonder about the necessity of this mission, Spielberg cuts back to a continuation of the Olympics massacre reenactment. Then, just as you may be getting too comfortable with it, he introduces a Palestinian character to argue with Avner (posing as a Basque terrorist) about the plight of his people. There's no action without reaction, no cause without effect, no easy answers after the pulling of a trigger or the refusal to do so.

It all ends in shellshock and despair, as any honest film about war must do. Even though Spielberg loses his way at times in the existential labyrinth he's constructed, and a few of the later espionage episodes are not entirely convincing, he's made a brave attempt to wrestle with the impossible here. Unmissable.

Walkin' in Munich.



Munich

Facts and Figures

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 164 mins

In Theaters: Friday 6th January 2006

Box Office USA: $47.4M

Box Office Worldwide: $130.4M

Budget: $70M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG, Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Kennedy/Marshall Company, The, Barry Mendel Productions, Alliance Atlantis Communications, Peninsula Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 156 Rotten: 44

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Avner, as Steve, as Carl, as Robert, as Hans, as Daphna, as Ephraim, Gila Almagor as Avner's Mother, as Louis, as Andreas, as Sylvie, Meret Becker as Yvonne, as Jeanette, as Tony, as Golda Meir, Ami Weinberg as General Zamir, as Papa, as Mahmoud Hamshari

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.