Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Hanns Zischler, Mathieu Amalric and Mathieu Kassovitz
Runtime: 164 minutes
CARA Rating: R for Strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language
Unlike some recent films that found themselves surrounded amongst controversy, Steven Spielberg’s new film Munich does not cripple itself with a naive message or manipulative film making.
Rushed into production earlier this year, Munich could have been full of all the hallmarks of lazy filmmaking. Yet it shows thought, care, and passion.
As a film it is able to capture the feel of the 1970’s very well. Both from the clothes to the look to the feel, this is a film that never becomes a cheap modern reconstruction. Spielberg even uses 1970’s cinematic techniques, such as a frequent use of zooms, to recreate a time not so long past.
As a historical thriller this is a very modern film dealing with very modern issues. One person I saw it with was disgusted, calling it “an awful piece of Palestinian propaganda.” Munich cuts to the nerve.
This is exactly why it is such a towering success, especially since it is a Steven Spielberg film. Spielberg often imbues his films with mega happy endings that wrap everything into a nice little bow. Just look at the end from his War of the Worlds adaptation earlier this summer.
However, while Munich begins with the 1972 murder of the Israeli Olympic team and then follows the reaction afterwards (some of it of course fiction or speculation), the film ultimately transcends the entire Israeli Palestine conflict to reflect on the entire culture of terrorism begun with the Munich murders that has affected our world of today so deeply.
One thing that can often cripple “message” films like this is that they end with an overly simplistic message that can be summed up in a single sentence. Often times a film can become too much about the message and not enough about the characters, as well.
Thankfully, Munich has more to say than “all violence is bad,” or “revenge makes us as bad as the people we are going after.” It also creates characters that are more than cardboard cutouts to be pushed through a story.
Munich never tries to justify the killing of the Israeli Olympic members, either, nor does it compare the murder of the Israeli athletes to the retribution of the people part of it. In both cases blood is spilt, but it is not the same.
Rather it examines the human side of such acts, observing how something that begins as a noble act of justice can quickly spiral out of control. Ironically, but sadly, often what is being fought for is quickly forgotten in the process of fighting.
In the last shot, a pan revealing the World Trade Center sitting quietly shrouded in the fog of distance, Munich borders on becoming a preachy indictment of modern America.
The last haunting line tempers this, though, as it does not condemn as a Michael Moore film might but rather suggests, offering something for those who know much about the Munich massacre, and for those who know nothing.
Most importantly, Munich is a human story that takes all these big issues and brings them to a personal level. Sometimes in the chaos of conflict we lose sight that what we are seeing is happening to people, and being done by people, and that you cannot examine any situation without looking at the people part of it and affected by it.
This does not mean that as a film Munich never stumbles, for it does. At points the hurried production time does rear its ugly head as certain scenes become muddled in unnecessary complexity. The main character of Avner, played by Eric Bana, could have had a bit better of an introduction to fully show his motives and the toll his job takes on his family.
There is also a perplexing and almost amusing montage near the end at a very important moment that drowns itself in murky pretension.
However, these small flaws hardly affect a film that is much more than simple “Palestinian propaganda,” or any propaganda for that matter. In fact, the very backbone of Munich encourages individual reflection rather than blind acceptance of an ideology or moral standard.
Critic’s Conclusion: Munich reaches no absolutes because there can be no absolutes with such multi-faceted issues. It is this surprising complexity from Spielberg that makes this one of his best and most mature films to date, and a film that will bring him much controversy from those looking for a black and white conflict that is never portrayed.