'Munich' *** 041706
Theatrical Review (2005)

The Work = ***
Steven Spielberg’s film 'Munich' is a gritty, violent, and often painful drama crossed with a spy film. The movie deals with Israel’s response to the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany. It is a very good movie that runs a bit long and has some moments that don’t work but I can still recommend it. Spielberg is a filmmaker that I admire and envy; he seems to innately know where to put the camera. Some filmmakers learn the craft slowly over the course of films or allow others to handle most of the direction for them. Spielberg, I suspect, just always knew where to put the camera to get what he wanted. I would also suspect that his assuredness of what he will get when he shoots allows him to improvise angles, shots, and sequences on the fly. I will go into some minor spoilers in this review so if you want to know nothing about the movie than you may not want to read past this paragraph. This is a dark and violent film that will not be for everyone. I can recommend 'Munich' despite some parts that keep me from giving it a higher recommendation.

Here, with 'Munich', he has created many gripping scenes set across the globe in the 1970s. The film has a great look to it, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski films washed out colors but with high contrast whites and blacks. The production and costume design do an excellent job recreating the 1970s. I am guessing there is some CGI worked in to help keep the backgrounds in the period but could not spot it.

The film follows Eric Bana, as Avner a former bodyguard for the prime minister of Israel. He is brought in to go off the record and hunt down and kill those who helped plan and execute the terrorist actions at Munich. Avner is given a group of men to aid him in his task and they have virtually unlimited funds. Throughout the film 'Munich' Spielberg cuts back to the 1972 kidnapping, showing in disturbing detail as the Palestinian terrorists kidnap the Israeli athletes in the dark of night.

'Munich' is based on actual events but much of it is a dramatic story rather than an exact reenactment of history. Spielberg and his crew tell the story of a group of agents carrying out their grim tasks. Most of the characters are fictitious and events are changed, condensed, and manufactured to tell the story. I must say, that it all works very well and the movie is engaging and moving all the way to the end.

Avners group is made up of Steve (Daniel Craig,) Carl (Ciaran Hinds,) Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz,) and Hans (Hanns Zischler.) Each has a specialty that made them a candidate to join this special group. If there is a shortcoming to the film it is that some of the characters “specialties” seem underdeveloped (especially Steve.) Still, all the actors work well and their characters come alive in the scenes. Daniel Craig is good and Ciaran Hinds (who is in is very good) makes his role memorable with little screen time. Avner and his group are pretty gung ho in the beginning but the complex and grim tasks they are carrying out quickly begin to take their toll. Avner watches the events at Munich with a clenching fist, despite having an expecting wife he accepts the offer and leads the group. He is confident, and strong. By the last quarter of the film he is shaken to his core, paranoid and unhinged. To go after a group with a group of your own is to make yourself and those you love a target. This would seem to be something Avner had not considered.

I have read that the production turnaround on 'Munich' was relatively quick (supposedly the time from the start of photography to the release of the film was less than six months.) I had also read that John Williams had some trouble putting together his score for the film. I can’t say for sure that 'Munich’s short production time or William’s difficulty really happened but I must say that there is no evidence of either in the film. The movie is a captivating and polished thriller.

However, and this is where the minor plot spoilers come, there is one scene in the last quarter of the movie that is to me, I can describe no other way, than to say it is bad. Bad in almost every sense, bad as in it seemed amateurish, bad as in it seemed comical and bad as in it almost seemed well, insulting. Essentially the scene is a sex scene between the main character and his wife. The bad part comes in when this scene is intercut with a flashback of the killing of the Israeli hostages at the 72 Olympic games. Sigh. Cheesy, maybe that is the word. The scene so derailed me from the rest of the movie that for the rest of the film I ended up thinking about it. This would be the lone evidence of the rushed production. I’m sure many will defend it, and maybe down the road I will come to appreciate but for now it just seems like a curiously cheesy moment in an otherwise engaging film.

I like 'Munich' and will snatch up the DVD when it comes out. I can’t recommend more largely because of the above mentioned misstep that yanks me out of the movie every time I see it. There is much to admire in 'Munich' even if you don’t agree with the politics or lack of politics. It is a dark and violent thriller that has many sequences where every element of the film work so well together that it is seamless. Spielberg is a phenomenal filmmaker that is often undone by his stories (the bookends in 'Saving Private Ryan', or the script for 'War of the Worlds', etc.) Here, he is operating at the top of his game and only slips up in a few moments (but when he slips boy does he fall.) Still, a lesser filmmaker would not have been able to make 'Munich' at all. This one is recommended.


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