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
Spielberg may be out-of-touch with the masses in terms of entertainment today (WOTW) but when he sticks to serious topics, he carves out sensational fares like this one
Munich may just be Spielberg's greatest accomplishment ever and it isn't a sweeping epic like you'd expect, but a patient psychological thriller that sneaks up on you and takes you and shakes you. It not shy away from blood, politics or nudity in its portrayal of events and this makes it extremely intense, absorbing and occasionally very violent.
The first half of Münich is not altogether different from a heist drama; a group of diverse men with different skills team up to accomplish a mission. They get to travel across Europe, make deals, infiltrate suspect facilities and manufacture explosive devices. Unlike heist films, however, their mission is not for personal gain, but for the government. They are to assassinate eleven Arabs who were alleged to be behind terrorist attacks like Münich 1972. So the more accessible part of the film sees Bana and his men botch their way through a hit-list as inexperienced hit-men, fumbling and trembling with the weight of this somber new task.
This part is so extraordinarily well-handled and engaging with a tone so tense and shadowed by politics and ethical dilemmas that every slight pause is mistaken for humour. It is also an excellent portrayal of an era - the 1970s - with great eye for detail, all carefully sewn together by a master tailor (Spielberg). It is a fantastic piece of film-making.
While Munich keeps you interested throughout, it gradually loses its fresh thriller edge by opting for more typical scenarios. Eric Bana's character goes through emotional struggles because he finds it too hard to kill people. He thinks about his family--his wife has just had a baby girl. He wonders if he is doing the right thing. He starts sympathizing with the Arabs. He wonders if they killings will stop once he has completed his mission. Everything is classic and you saw it coming. It needs to be present in the film for a balanced portrayal but the hackneyed formula with which it is expressed is disappointing. It started so promising, after all.
Sadly, the culmination of this slightly hackneyed recipe manifests itself in the final scene of the film and it is absolutely dreadful and drags the whole film down by at least one star - but overall this is superb quality that is carried by a strong ensemble cast (Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig) although it is ultimately Bana's show. He captures the inner turmoil and hesitation of his character in the most believable way, making Munich into a worthwhile adventure for its performances alone. But most importantly, it dares to asks questions.
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