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MUNICH

MUNICH (2005 - R)

This Spielberg film is based on the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics disaster. After an entire Israel team was taken hostage and then murdered by a group of Palestinian terrorists known as Black September, political tensions arise when Israel hires a group of assassins to seek vengeance for their late athletes.  The group spends the better part of several months roaming Europe, dropping money, and sniffing out all potentially "connected" members to the Black September affiliation.  As mixed feelings and political mayhem arise, the Israeli assassins due their best to stay under the radar and complete their mission before Black September and political authorities foil their vendetta.

The cast includes: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Hanns Zischler, and Geoffrey Rush.

Written by: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth (screenplay). Directed by: Steven Spielberg.

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Genre: Drama, History

Tagline:  They were their country's only hope.

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Spielberg takes you back to 1972, interspersing live footage with dramatic adaptations of the chaotic and tragic scenario at the Munich Olympics.  When a group of Palestinian terrorists infiltrate the Olympics’ sleeping quarters, they take 12 Israeli athletes hostage; killing several in the process.  For several days the world watches as hundreds of broadcast mediums televise their vague knowledge pertaining to the status of the Israeli hostages.  Eventually a transfer of the hostages from the Olympic housing quarters to the Munich airport, where an alleged “rescue” will transpire, results in all out mayhem.  All 12 Israeli athletes are killed (along with several Palestinians- a fact which is not, I believe, intended to be overlooked).

Seeking justice, Israeli premier Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) convenes with Israeli military and government officials.  Together Israel reps conspire to retaliate in full force; seeking justice for their recently departed. Bloodshed is their answer.  In an attempt to stop the terrorism they will, ironically try to stop the killing with more killing; to terrorize the terrorists- your Yeatsian “gyre” made manifest. 

Under the observance of government official Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), five men are hired to seek out and kill 12 men, allegedly related to the terrorist group Black September, and presumably responsible for coordinating the Israeli massacre in Munich.  As the film progresses the audience watches these “freedom fighters”: Avner (Eric Bana), Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciaran Hinds), Robert (Mattheiu Kassovitz), and Hans (Hans Zicshler), hunt down the alleged anti-Israeli terrorists. 

One by one their targets begin to drop, thanks to the help of a neutral French informer, ex-French Resistance fighter Louis (Matthieu Almaric).  Louis is an anti-political, cynical informer who doles out deadly information to the highest bidder in an attempt to take out corrupt political regimes.  Throughout the multiple “mini” climaxes in the film audiences struggle alongside the Israeli “freedom fighters” in determining whether or not Louis is playing both sides of the field:  is he helping them as much as selling them out at the same time?  And if so, just how right and or wrong is he in taking such actions?  Information comes at a price; loyalty, at an even heavier bounty. 

Eventually each of the five chosen Israelites begin to question the morally wayward ways of their project: which has left many a woman and child without a husband and father; which has compromised the safety of more than just their targets, and themselves; which has resulted in the cold blooded murder of more than their intended targets; which has begun to rack their conscience when contemplating the repercussions of their actions, however patriotic and well-intended they may have (initially) seemed.

And what then?  Spielberg leaves the obvious question lingering like a carrot in front of the horse for both Israel terrorist and audience.  What happens when all the “targets” are expired?  Won’t other replacements simply be hired; more vengeful; more radical; more intent on their vendetta than their predecessors?  Won’t the vicious cycle continue?  Arguably, one doesn’t need an ending to know the answer: yes.

“Munich” has been called many things: excellent filmmaking, a quality production, an outstanding achievement, brilliant...  One thing it has yet to be called is “bad.”  Nor do we hope it will ever come under the siege of such poorly informed and inaccurate commentary. 

In “Munich” Spielberg manipulates the typical hit-man thriller genre by integrating and exploiting the intensely psychological repercussions of the character’s actions throughout the film- in the end the boundary between “good guy/bad guy” is nearly impossible to discern.  Sure there are specialized hit men, suspected double agents, the ambiguous line between good-guy / bad-guy, the occasional tragic victim…but it is the ability of the character’s to question the ethics of such scenarios that makes this film an original.  Generic it is not. It is, in the words of one critic, “wrapped in the thin veneer of ‘history’ and 'fact'… mob bosses and corporate espionage is replaced with Middle Eastern politics and Israeli-Arab relations.”

Though one critic has noted “perhaps [“Munich” is] the first truly adult movie of his career,” arguing that, in this film Spielberg abandons his so-called “trademark sentimentality, his descents into fantasy, his childish simplification of motivation.”  True. However, arguably “Munich” is not his first adult film; strictly speaking, though it is much more than just a ‘cut above’ his recent works, such as the too-bland remake of “War of the Worlds.” 

It is in “Munich” that Spielberg returns to his “Schindler’s List” roots (his first big “adult film?”): the complex, introspective, psychological lens that zooms in on the rhetoric of the personal and the political amidst tragic world affairs.  It is not a film of the individual, but of the social: the concept of humanity and the many troubled and sordid problems preventing a homogenous worldly peace.  As one critic appropriately comments, “the movie is not about the Jews and Arabs. It's about human beings. It's about us.”

It is in “Munich” that Spielberg reclaims his ability to embrace “ambiguity and complexity, and as a result, has invited criticism from those who prefer their drama simplistically black and white.”  Yes, there is no “cheap emotional manipulation” in this film.  Spielberg bravely refused to “flinch at complexities” and explores “his ability to dissect the ideological and moral sureties of all sides within the natural rhythms of the thriller genre.  There is so much to praise in this film, because it is utterly seamless film-making with a keen eye for… detail...”  Intelligent in the very least.  Brilliant indeed. 

Of the set design and cinematography it can be said that Spielberg spared no expense with his “flawless recreation of European capitals”, fluid cinematography, and “impeccable costume design”: “Munich” is visually arresting. Janusz Kaminski’s ability to frame human emotion, particularly in the action sequences, is second to none.  Much credit is also due to Michael Kahn’s nearly flawless editing: crisp, bold, daring, unnerving, and, arguably, seamless.

But no visual layout is any good without its supporting script, which was, for “Munich”, crisp and intense.  Kushner and Roth's screenplay imbues a sharp narrative development paired with intellectually dialog and, in the words of one critic, “armrest-clutching actions sequences.”  The effect?  “Munich” effortlessly (or so it appears) achieves an overwhelming “emotional impact within a complexly rendered ideological, moral and strategic matrix.”

Many have noted that the acting is, so to speak, “spot-on.”  The cast is indelibly deft and Eric Bana is a marvel.  Glimmers of his talent were foreshadowed in films like “Blackhawk Down” and “Troy,” but it is “Munich” that Bana fully spreads his wings.  He has proven himself as more than a pretty face.  He is an artist in the truest sense and there is nothing but genuine talent being explored here.  It is in his performance that the troublesome aspect of (tough) “nobility” is explored… his forte is appropriately capitalized in such a role.  Unfortunately he did not receive the credit he was arguably due.

All in all, every one of the five leads did an outstanding job.  The cold, empty, vacant, angry, starved eyes, the rigid body posture…so many nuances, so much brilliance.  Particularly memorable were Ciaran Hinds as the sage-like “Carl,” and Mattheiu Kassovitz as the troubled “Robert.”  Golda Meir’s short but gripping cameo is spot-on thanks to the crafting of her powerful speech, noted as an “extraordinary piece of recreation that transcends mere imitation” by some. Likewise, even the cameo by Michael Lonsdale as “Papa”- father of Louis, the French informer, is powerfully evocative and psychologically riveting.  So is, of course, the cameo by, I believe, Moritz Bliebtreu as Andreas, the Palestinian PLO operative  who discusses the ideological justification of Palestinian strategy against the Israelites with Avner.  It is in scenes and with performances like these that Spielberg effectively constructs the immensely problematic and tense qualm of political vengeance: where the Israeli’s doubt “of their mission's morality and effectiveness” is allowed to penetrate their enraged psyche.  In the end, killing only begets killing.  In the end it’s time one realizes the importance of the old adage, “you don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.”

Though this film may seem at first a “relatively flat and emotionless exercise in historical recreation,” if given time and an objective, receptive audience, one will soon concede to the “quick bursts of sudden bursts of emotional and intellectual recognition”: the power of the film will not, and has not gone unrecognized. “Munich” was nominated for 5 Oscars: Best Directing (Spielberg), Best Editing (Michael Kahn), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Picture, and Best Writing (Tony Kushner and Eric Roth).  Additionally the film garnered another 6 critical film association awards including the DC Film Critics’ Best Director Award, the Kansas City Film Critics Award for: Best Director, Best Film, and Best Screenplay.  The film was also nominated for another 15 awards including 2 Golden Globes: Best Director (Steven Spielberg) and Best Screenplay (Kushner and Roth). 

Main Characters:

Eric Bana plays Avner, head of the Israeli freedom fighter.

Daniel Craig plays Steve, Israeli freedom fighter.

Ciaran Hinds plays Carl, Israeli freedom fighter.

Mathieu Kassovitz plays Robert, Israeli freedom fighter.

Hanns Zischler plays Hans, Israeli freedom fighter.

Geoffrey Rush plays Ephraim, head of the “Justice for Israel” project.

Ayelet Zurer plays Daphna, Avner’s wife.

Lynn Cohen plays Golda Meir, Israeli political official.

Matthieu Almaric plays Louis, the French informer.