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

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in...

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

With the more dumbed-down title Fast & Furious 8 outside of North America, this overcrowded...

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the...

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel is adapted into a remarkably intelligent, gently involving film anchored...

The Boss Baby Movie Review

The Boss Baby Movie Review

There isn't a lot of subtlety in this madcap animated comedy, which is more aimed...

Advertisement
City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

After the latest incarnation of Dredd, director Pete Travis shifts gears drastically for this complex...

Going in Style Movie Review

Going in Style Movie Review

This is only technically a remake of the iconic 1979 film starring movie icons George...

Graduation Movie Review

Graduation Movie Review

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) recounts another staggeringly detailed...

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the...

Free Fire Movie Review

Free Fire Movie Review

Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

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.