MUNICH is first and foremost an engrossing movie. From the opening encapsulation of the terrorist attacks through the Israeli’s vengeful response, the film sustains a real and gripping tension. This is one of the rare cinematic instances where it feels like everyone is vulnerable and anything can happen. All that suspense and action comes with plenty of emotion and drama, which is all tied together by a great cast. Each actor is given a dynamic character, especially Ciarán Hinds and Daniel Craig. (If Craig plays his Bond with the reckless, smug abandon he displays here, he’ll kick some serious ass—blonde hair or not.) However, it’s Eric Bana’s wrenching performance as Avner that gives a relatable soul to the underlying drama at the heart of MUNICH. Bana seriously got gypped during awards season—the man is incredible to watch.
But the movie is not just a compelling historical and human drama; MUNICH also offers some interesting discussion on current international relations. Spielberg isn’t subtle in presenting the modern day parallels to the Israeli situation thirty years ago—the moral dilemma of attacking violence with more violence, essentially becoming a terrorist to avenge terrorism. If it’s revenge, is it justifiable or merely the beginning of a destructive cycle? MUNICH raises these questions without any clear cut answers and Spielberg punctuates it with some unflinching violence that simultaneously absorbs and disconnects the audience, much like the characters themselves. You want to see the team get revenge on the people responsible, but the gritty 70s filmmaking style that Spielberg perfectly captures makes each assassination equally hard to watch. The job of a secret agent is never glorified, and all the shootings and explosions, unlike most movies, are anything but cool.
The thing that keeps MUNICH from being an extraordinary movie is surprisingly the script by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner and Academy Award winner Eric Roth. While most of the writing is top notch there are too many spots where the dialogue is too “point-counterpoint,” where actors stop to unnaturally soliloquize about the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict or to blatantly explain both sides in a “fair” manner. On repeat viewings I found myself itching to fast forward through each heavy handed discussion. I’m all for educating audiences (especially in today’s “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” society) but it just drags the pace of an already too long movie. I suspect that if Spielberg wasn’t trying to get MUNICH out in time for Oscar contention, he could’ve edited out a good twenty unnecessary minutes from the movie. And if there was ever a film that didn’t deserve to be rushed to theaters, it’s MUNICH.
Introduction by Steven Spielberg (4:34): A short intro, but it covers a lot of ground—mainly the movie as an adaptation of George Jonas’ book “Vengeance” and its ensuing credibility. Spielberg touches on what is indisputable fact and what is based on his own personal research, and even so, why the film is not meant to be an end-all accurate documentary. I liked his point that “being attacked [by critics] isn’t the same as being discredited.”
There’s also a two-disc Special Edition out there, but much like the recent JARHEAD SE, the release was bizarrely limited. TRANSLATION: If you want more (any) special features, be prepared to shell out some big bucks on eBay.
MUNICH is a fantastic, thought-provoking and involving thriller that, like a lot of movies, suffers from a slight case of bloat. Even if it’s not your kind of flick…dude, it’s Spielberg; at least give it one viewing. And if you’re looking to pick up the DVD, I’d suggest tracking down a copy of the currently-discontinued Special Edition. Even if it sets you back a few thousand pennies, it’s probably worth it.