Thursday, December 29, 2005


MUNICH is a film that Spielberg needed to do. There’s an urgency that I haven’t really seen in his work. Maybe in RAIDERS but this, of course, is totally (and tonally) different. Spielberg has always been considered the greatest. And he’s coasted on that through many films. With MUNICH I see the artist again. I see a man struggling to understand the violent world that he’s in and his art is a reflection of that process.

I’m going to go in-depth here. If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it and come back and chew the Chow Yun Fat.

The movie opens depicting a fragmented retelling of the 1972 Munich Olympic games massacre. A siege of a dorm room containing Israeli athletes by a squad of heavily armed PLO operatives ends…badly. It’s fragmented masterfully. We see actual news reports with Howard Cosell, of all people, seamlessly edited into film footage. The effect conveys what every Jew in the world must have felt at the time. A solidarity, tension, horror, confusion.

Watching the events unfold is Eric Bana’s Avner. An Israeli son of a military hero and an agent of the Mossad. He is immediately whisked away into a room with government and military folk, and Golda Mier. Policy is being hammered out and Avner is asked if he will forfeit his ties to the Israeli government in order to seek bloody retribution for his fallen countrymen. With a pregnant wife at home and initial moral misgivings, Avner accepts.

Avner heads up a similarly cherry-picked team of four other agents. Utilizing every convention of the modern spy/men on a mission genre, Spielberg parallels what we expect from this type of movie. It’s thrilling and engaging. It’s what happens to these characters after several campaigns that film gets it's hooks into us.

This is Spielberg at his most ambiguous. The Palestinian targets are portrayed as real human beings who love their children and share the same ideals as Avner. In one haunting scene the team shares a “safe house” with a cell of PLO operatives. Rather than another action set piece, the characters hang out and listen to the radio. Avner engages the leader of the cell, Ali, in a discussion about Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are opposed but more similar than either realizes.

I really have to applaud Spielberg for being a conscientious artist and not making this a revenge flick. He allows his characters to not be good or bad, but to be how human beings truly are: a bit of both. His characters question their own actions. And Avner eventually becomes frayed emotionally and psychologically.

In MUNICH the phrase “An eye for an eye” hangs over every scene but is never uttered. It realizes that this cycle of violence is like uroboros slowly engulfing it’s whole body. And with the final shot of the movie, it should all be clear how totally accurate this all is.


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