In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.
During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
After Black September's assassination of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir okays a black-box operation to hunt down and kill all involved. A team of five gathers in Switzerland led by Avner, a low-level Mossad techie whose father was a war hero and whose wife is pregnant. It's an expendable team, but relying on paid informants, they track and kill several in Europe and Lebanon. They must constantly look over their shoulders for the CIA, KGB, PLO, and their own sources. As the body count mounts -- with retribution following retribution -- so do questions, doubts, and sleepless nights. Loyalties blur. What does it mean to be a Jew? Written by
'Munich' is, on the whole, a straight forward hit-man movie. The assignments are handed out; the team is assembled, each with their own specialty; and they travel about Europe plotting and carrying out their hits. We have the inevitable paranoia, the double agents and suspicious loyalties. So far, so familiar. Only 'Munich' is wrapped in the thin veneer of 'history' and 'fact', and mob bosses and corporate espionage is replaced with Middle Eastern politics and Israeli-Arab relations. I mention this because the politics of 'Munich' are really nothing more than a topical plot devise, used the same way as cold-war relations and soviet villainy was used thirty years ago.
What prevents 'Munich' becoming just a generic updated-cold-war thriller, is the sheer quality of the production. From the flawless recreation of European capitals in the early seventies to the impeccable costume design to the beautiful cinematography 'Munich' is a visually fascinating movie. The performances are universally outstanding, with Bana in particular bringing a sense of tough nobility that seems to be his forte. The script is intelligent and thought-provoking, and it is Kushner's focus on the emotional and psychological landscape of his characters rather than the details of political contract killing, that ultimately lifts the movie above the generic. The kind of self-consciously poetic prose for which he is known, so often seeming unrealistically erudite, is kept to a minimum, and when it does appear, is so beautifully written and performed that all reservations are forgotten.
Ultimately, the greatest praise must be reserved for Spielberg, who has, with 'Munich', created perhaps the first truly adult movie of his career. We see no signs of his trademark sentimentality, his descents into fantasy, his childish simplification of motivation. With 'Munich', he embraces ambiguity and complexity, and as a result, has invited criticism from those who prefer their drama simplistically black and white. Above all, one can't help but wonder what the Spielberg oeuvre would look had he not dedicated his career to kid's movies, fantasies and feel-good sci-fi.
'Munich' is an intelligent and gripping thriller that is a major contender for award recognition, and deservedly so. An outstanding achievement.
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