Steven Spielberg is at it again. Not since "Saving Private Ryan" have we seen such a direct push for the Oscar throne from the most famous director of our time. Also, as the most famous Jew in the world, he is also pushing for controversy - his latest film, "Munich," is about a group of Jewish assassins who scour the world killing those responsible for planning the 1972 Olympic Games massacre.
In a time of heated tension in the Middle East, "Munich" is a film that is either very timely or completely out-of-place. I, being one who likes to point out the fuzziness of the lines that we draw in this world, feel this is the perfect timing for such a movie, a film that explores the Israeli-Palestinian feud and that points out that neither side is right or wrong.
The movie starts out with the explosive events that perhaps didn't start it all but that punctuate it, about the kidnapping of 11 Israeli athletes at the hands of several Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. All 11 athletes and most of their captors were killed in a botched rescue attempt.
However, those events are only the beginning of "Munich." This movie is not as much about reenacting the tragic events, but instead focuses on the Israeli government's secret decision to bring a group of five men together to travel around Europe and assassinate 11 men allegedly responsible for planning the attack. The men proceed with the killings, working off a list of names without any knowledge as to how involved each man was with the Munich massacre. As time goes on, they begin to question their killings - after all, what is the difference between assassination and murder? Was the evidence conclusive that these men were involved? Does killing eleven men really do anything?
Eric Bana, best known as The Hulk, leads the relatively unknown cast, though people will recognize Daniel Craig, the future James Bond, and Geoffrey Rush. Bana is terrific in the lead, those his subdued performance may be overlooked come Oscar time. He successfully pulls off a character who is not necessarily committing evil but is not good either. He believes what he is doing has to be done, but at the same time he is killing men he doesn't know out of revenge.
The movie itself is powerful and moving, but never spellbinding. At nearly three hours long, "Munich" feels long, as it switches between covert action and suspense to long sequences of contemplation and discussion. All scenes are handled well, but the movie never flows at the pace I would have liked it to.
"Munich" is a well done film and easily one of the year's best, but that isn't saying a tremendous amount when you consider that 2005 is one of the weakest movie years in a long time. This is one of the few Spielberg films that does not look like a Spielberg film - not only is it dark, gritty, bloody and violent, but the look and feel is different. Spielberg obviously, and for good reason, cares about the subject matter very much.
Amazingly, despite the controversy, "Munich" is very even-handed. While the "good guys" are Israelis, the movie's intention is to show that this constant fighting and killing will lead no where except to more fighting and killing. The movie never takes away from the outright tragedy that was Munich, but at the same time does not defend Israel in its supposed right to kill off anyone who knew anything about the attack.
Perhaps my only real complaint with the film is that its issues are too subtle for what I was looking for. I fear that the film's message will be lost on many people, and it never grabbed me enough to really get into my head. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of those situations that is extreme yet at the same time solvable, but for it to be so people from other nationalities have to understand the dilemma. Few do, and "Munich" is never completely clear in its message. I got it, but in a very indirect way that many people will never figure out.
"Munich" is a very good movie that deserves consideration for an Oscar nomination, though I am not completely sold that is deserves such an honor. In any other year I feel I would be harder on it, but I am desperate for anything of quality and, despite some flaws, it is a quality film.
Now out on both single and double disc DVD, the creators of "Munich" go into more depth about the controversy of the movie, the creation of the movie and the themes of the movie. In general, the special features, an array of mini-documentaries and interviews, are no different than those found on countless other DVDs - however, given the thematic importance of "Munich," they are all the more powerful.
In his introduction, Steven Spielberg directly confronts the argument that the movie is anti-Israeli or that it is completely fictional. In two minutes he basically says everything you need to know. From there, the DVD goes into detail on casting, sets and, most importantly, how modern day issues (not just Israeli-Palestinian issues) are reflected within the film.
There is nothing remarkable about the special features on the "Munich" DVD, but the features are well-done and explore much more interesting topics than found with most movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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