Munich had the potential to be a masterpiece. In fact, many reviewers have already claimed it is a masterpiece. Sadly they are wrong. Potential is a tricky thing, like a traditional massage it rarely has a happy ending. I’ll give the Munich masterpiece crowd this: “Munich has all the ingredients in place. It has weighty subject matter, a heavyweight director and a cast firing on all cylinders.”
The story of Munich is the story of revenge. I’d normally say “pure and simple” revenge but there is nothing pure and simple about it. Eric Bana plays Avner, a reluctant Jewish assassin bent on snuffing out the life of 11 key Palestinians thought to be key players in the 1972 Munich Olympic hostage killings. Avner is recruited to lead an assassin squad because he’s not a professional killer, which gives the Mossad plausible deniability. It is Avner’s everyman personality that gives the film a conscious, it is his wife and baby girl that give the film humanity. Also of note is Daniel Craig as Steve, a cowboy type who is with Avner every step of the way. Craig is a rare talent who excels in almost any role.
What goes wrong with Munich is pace and tone. This film is easily eight to ten scenes too long because the ending doesn’t have any meaning past about minute 200. I understand that Mr. Spielberg had extra film lying around but he didn’t need to include it in such a hodgepodge manner. There is also a giant logic issue about midway through that discerning viewers might catch. My final complaint is the Hebrew accented English. Why not just go straight English or alternatively have the dialogue in authentic Hebrew? Yeah, it’s a small note but that’s why I get paid the big bucks.
There is a theory that goodness derives from complexity. Simple things such as “Israel is right” or “The Palestinians must be given land” are too ideologically simple to be positive. In this manner I think Spielberg was going for a good film, he drives home the complexity of the situation as often as possible. Munich is a movie which will leave you in knots for much of its running time, you don’t want the protagonists to get hurt and you don’t want innocents to get hurt either. You even might feel occasional pangs of sympathy for the Palestinian plight. In this manner Munich is a balanced film and deserves praise as such. Matters such as the Mossad versus the PLO are rarely simple and there is plenty of guilt to go around.
The main theme of Munich, oddly enough, may be the inherent flaws in government. This is seen over and over again as each government becomes complicit in innocent blood being spilled. Whether it’s the Americans, the Germans, the Israelis or the Palestinians, it seems as though their actions are motivated solely by self interest and never by moral concerns. We begin to see the victims as the fighters on both sides who claim the ideological high ground.
Munich is worth seeing because the first two hours are tremendous. A laggard final half hour shouldn’t deter you from enjoying it as the films builds up enough goodwill and interest to not completely collapse. But a masterpiece? Nope, sorry, Munich is not one of those rare birds.
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