Eric Bana as Avner
Daniel Craig as Steve
Ciarán Hinds as Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz as Robert
Hanns Zischler as Hans
Ayelet Zorer as Daphna
Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim
Michael Lonsdale as Papa
Mathieu Amalric as Louis
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, 11 athletes from Israel were kidnapped by members of Black September in exchange for the release of Muslim prisoners, and were killed during an abortive rescue attempt by the German Special Forces. In response, Israel sent members of the Mossad to publicly take out the leading members of Black September in order to send a message to the terrorist community in the only language they believed the terrorists would respond to – violence.
Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” follows the trials of Avner (Eric Bana), the Mossad agent assigned to carry out the assassinations, and the moral abyss he finds himself falling into as he turns to the terrorists methods, until like his country itself he finds that he has completely lost his way, and doesn’t really remember what he’s killing for anymore. “Munich” paints a sad world of escalating violence that is ultimately pointless as it solves none of the problems it is being used for – it’s a short term solution to long term problems.
At it’s best “Munich” is marvelously bleak, but it suffers from the typical Spielberg curse – it has no ending. It’s starts strong, but the more it goes along the more and more muddled it gets, finally floundering through scene after exhausting scene long past the time it’s had a point. As subtle as it can be, it can also be embarrassingly heavy-handed, most memorably when the Mossad agents find themselves sharing their safe house with Palestinian terrorists, giving them a chance to show how easy it would be for them to get along if they would just put their problems aside, and allows them to monologue the positions of the two camps to each other. They’re good points, important points, but they’re done in such an obvious and hard to believe way that the presentation takes away from the message.
And the message is what this film is all about. As it settles into it’s far too drawn-out third act, Spielberg paints strong connections between Israel of 1972 and America of today and just how successful their campaigns against terrorism have been – a campaign that Israel has been fighting without let up for 30 years – and wonders if this is the world and the ‘victory’ that we’re killing and dying for. Once again it’s very important and needs talking about, but by the end it’s really hard to care.
There’s still a lot to admire about “Munich.” Spielberg is as good a craftsman of a scene or suspense sequence as he’s ever been, and when he has a good sequence to throw himself into, the film is always compelling, which is probably why his openings are always so good, and “Munich” is no exception as he recreates the kidnapping and attempted-rescue that gets the ball rolling. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is as good as ever and production designer Rick Carter and costume designer Joanna Johnston capture the feel of 70s Europe beautifully, making it feel like it real and not falling for the 70s clichés that plague many period pictures of the type.
And he has a great cast to fall back on. “Munich” belongs to Eric Bana who tackles Avner with aplomb, imbuing some of even the sillier scenes (notably the safe house scene, or a moment where he converses with a terrorist leader he is about to blow up) with gravity. He is ably assisted by Daniel Craig as the voice of righteous anger, and Ciarán Hinds as his conscience and devil’s advocate, the old soldier who’s been around long enough to know the futility of his actions but continues anyway out of his sense of duty.
“Munich” is an important story to be sure, but an important movie isn’t the same as a great or even good one. It’s told in such a muddled way that the message is too easily lost, except for the moments when it is literally hammered home at the cost of story-telling believability.
“Munich” is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.