Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds,
Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler
This is an important film. That’s the gist of it. This is not a film to be forgotten or left to rot on a DVD shelf. This is a film that should be shown in history classrooms and one that leaves a resounding effect long after the credits roll. It is a film, like many of Spielberg’s, which gives insight, depth, and understanding, even amidst all its confusion, to the realities of its subject matter: terrorism and the reaction to it. Unlike the other politically charged thriller this year (Syriana), “Munich” is accessible and open to audiences, almost inviting. This is a film that begs to be seen and understood.
Obviously, the film parallels very similarly to the current state of many countries, including the U.S., which have suffered terrorist attacks. However, most educated people will realize that these terrorist attacks have been going on for a long time and they haven’t stopped. We simply haven’t cared to give them a second look. That is, until September 11th.
“Munich” retells the story of an arab terrorist group called "Black September" (believed to be members of PLO) holding a team of Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and then takes you on a roller coaster ride through the reaction to that event. While trying to flee at the airport, the hostage situation goes awry and the Israeli athletes are murdered and all but three of the terrorists are killed.
The reaction is quick, although tensions have been high for years. The prime minister decides that action must be taken in order to uphold the rules of humanity, whether they are from one country to another or one person to another.
Enlisting the help of a former Mossad bodyguard named Avner (Eric Bana), the Prime Minister sets out a plan of action to kill every person involved in the murder at Munich.
Avner, the son of a former Mossad hero, is chosen for his anonymity and lack of deep involvement in assassination, the reasoning being that it will be easier for him to work in the shadows. The only problem I had with the entire film is the reasons behind Avner’s decision to take the job. If it was a sense of duty and country, fine, but it’s never truly stated or understood. Avner simply takes the job because he seems haunted by the events at Munich.
Avner is told he could be gone for years while trying to track down and kill every person involved in Munich. At home, Avner has a pregnant wife and an easy life, but for whatever reason, decides this is something he must do.
From here, Avner meets with his teammates, a group of four men all played splendidly by each actor, and they set out to put their plans in motion. It turns out that none of them are specifically crafted assassins, but rather “roundabout” assassins, each having just enough skill and trade to make it happen.
From their first mission, Spielberg lets us know he’s in serious mode and it’s fitting. I am amazed at Spielberg and always have been. Not every one of his movies is great and powerful, but he always holds strongly to his message and portrays it perfectly with the medium he is working in. Spielberg is truly a master of cinema and he once again lives up to that with “Munich.”
Every shot is crafted beautifully with so much depth and detail that you really feel that the film was shot in the 70’s. What amazes me further is how fast Spielberg shot this film (somewhere around three months) and how brilliant it turned out. The speed at which this man works is phenomenal given the results he gets.
Everything Spielberg does with “Munich” feels intentional and that every frame is crafted for us, not catered or watered down. This is where “Munich” succeeds without question. It is a cinematic masterpiece to be sure.
“Munich” is based on the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas and was written for the screen by Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Eric Roth (The Insider), both of who have fleshed out the depth in each character extremely well. We feel for these guys as they go through each assassination. The toll it takes is brutal and when they start to question what they’re doing you start to question yourself.
Taking dramatic license, Spielberg takes us into thriller-mode and I can’t think of any other time I’ve seen Spielberg venture down this path, unless you count “Minority Report.” I hate to use clichés, but nail-biting suspense comes to mind while watching “Munich.” I found my heart racing throughout the film, feeling each moment as it passed with full magnitude.
The questions asked in the film are obvious and relevant. At what price revenge? At what cost? Ultimately, there are no easy answers. Every time the agents kill a terrorist another takes his place and they are left to wonder if they’ve made any difference at all. It is very close to what has happened to the United States recently and begs to ask the tough questions.
The last scene of “Munich” takes place in New York and the parting shot leaves us a view of the World Trade Center towers, still standing, untouched, like a premonition hanging in the skyline of the terrorism to come.
So, they ask the questions…is it worth it? I think the real question is: how long do you wait before it is time to take action? I know a lot of people out there think that diplomacy will work with terrorists. They’re morons. Terrorists will take and take and take. They do not want diplomacy. They want their way or they will kill to have it. There is no compromise.
People seem to forget that once you give a bully his way he’ll keep coming back for it and he’ll take more every time until there’s nothing left. The only answer is to fight back or you leave yourself open for more attacks. Throughout “Munich” we see that each time the hit squad takes out a target, Israel is attacked in retaliation, creating a vicious cycle of never-ending violence, which continues to this day. The fight continues until someone gives. This is the nature of war. It is two opposing wills that will not budge.
As the violence continues many feel that there must be some way to make peace with terrorists, whether they be Al Qaeda or PLO. The truth is, these organization’s view of peace is a world without freedom, be that of religion or government. Their view of peace comes at the price of eradicating entire countries. If there is any dispute, it’s time to do some homework.
I’ve read a lot of people’s reactions to the end scene where Avner is having sex with his wife being intercut with the final slaughter of the Israeli athletes as being “off” or misunderstood. My view is that Avner, having finished his mission and returned home, caring only about his family, is haunted still by the incident and what he did to get vengeance for it.
In war, whether that be as an assassin or as a soldier, you do many things you may or may not be proud of and they can haunt you throughout your life. The problem with these “hauntings” is that they come to visit you when you’re most happy, most at peace, when you are at the pinnacle of greatness in your life. Watching your kid play soccer, having Thanksgiving dinner with your family, or yes, making love to your wife.
I think that most critics don’t understand this because they’ve never been in a position to understand it. The point could be raised that the screenwriter, Tony Kushner, has never been in a similar situation either. Point noted. However, when immersed in writing something, especially a historical film, you learn about your characters, their emotions, their thoughts, feelings, and pain. A critic sits down for 160 minutes and then types his thoughts for all to read. There is a huge gap there.
What I loved truly about “Munich” is that it does not try to preach any answers to us, but instead really gets the gears grinding for the receptive mind. It will make you think and hopefully make you care and maybe ask yourself some tough questions about the subject. Spielberg has painted a portrait of history that cannot go unnoticed.
This is stellar filmmaking, an unforgettable tale that resonates through our current state in the world and the battle we are in. There are no easy answers and plenty of tough questions. Films like these may turn the gears in future leader’s heads and possibly conjure up solutions to the forthcoming crisis’s and challenges of our world. The power of influence and thought combined can create something great and Spielberg has given us the tools to work with here.
One last note. If we're placing value on the Oscars and actually care what they vote as worthy of a golden statue then if Munich is snubbed they will get another stamp on their official paperwork that makes them morons. I am sure they'll ignore Eric Bana's terrific performance as well, which is well worth the recognition as he outperforms the majority of this years performances in so many other films.
Movie Grade: A+