Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel,
Steven Spielberg, Colin Wilson
Written by: Tony Kushner, Eric Roth
Cast: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds,
Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Geoffrey Rush, Ayelet Zorer,
Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric, Moritz Bleibtrau, Yvan Attal,
Steven Spielberg has reached a level of unimpeachable
technical mastery: Munich was shot and assembled in six
months, but its craft is perfect. Unfortunately, Spielberg’s
technique outpaces his source, as it so often does, going up here
against a script by Forrest Gump hack Eric Roth
and Angels In America didact Tony Kushner.
Unevenly splitting the difference between vintage ’70s thriller
and message-mongering, the pair come up with plenty of clunkers
that aim for stylized eloquence but fall into overwriting instead.
Character development is reduced to brute statements like “Your
mother abandoned you to a kibbutz. Now you think Israel is your
mother.” The political message-mongering can only fall even
Though the opening comes cloaked in somber strings and ethnic
female vocal wailing, sobriety does not prevent the first 90 minutes
from being on par with Spielberg’s best work. Deftly reconstructing
the Palestinian hostage-taking/killings of the 1972 Olympics through
a seamless blend of ABC’s coverage and new re-creations, the
film moves swiftly towards vengeance: Golda Meir
(Cohen) convenes her cabinet and dispenses with
moral scruples. The TV reads out the name of the 11 victims, intercut
with the cabinet lining up photos and names of 11 terrorists involved
in the event: parallelism is established for the killings that are
about to follow (or, as Leon Wieseltier would have
it in his pre-emptive
attack on the film, it begins “to look ominously like
the sin of equivalency” between the Palestinians and Israelis—something
that The New Republic, along with official representatives
of Israel, have condemned the film for). The cabinet calls on Mossad
agent Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana, still flexing muscles
left over from Hulk and Troy and first seen clenching
and unclenching his fist—Mossad smash!) to run off to a secret
Swiss bank account, convene a team of experts (one for weapons,
one for clean-up, and so on), and start killing people.
For a while, Munich jogs along nicely as an ersatz-’70s
thriller, complete with immaculate period design and a Eurotrip
feel (even if the film is clunky enough to establish that it’s
moved to Paris by showing the Eiffel Tower in the background, what
matters is the dirty bridge and food market in the foreground) and
plenty of uses of the zoom lens. (Weird technical glitch in an otherwise
flawless production: Spielberg’s DP of the last 12 years,
Janusz Kaminski, still has a weird fetish for overlighting.
In one scene, the light flares so much that Geoffrey Rush’s
glasses blow out the film when they catch sun’s rays.) It
begins to seem like Spielberg is running laps around the dire premise
of another “serious” film on par with Amistad,
tragic source material aside, but it’s not to be. Violence
begets violence, and morality lessons from characters spelling that
out beget tedium; the film elides a third act entirely, settling
instead for a slow decline into paranoia and guilt for Bana. The
nadir of this comes in the penultimate scene, where Bana has sex
with his wife (Zorer) but can only envision Palestinians
killing Olympic athletes; the exact connection is, to put it kindly,
To restate the obvious: Spielberg’s “pop” films
can be (and frequently are) deadly serious: War Of The Worlds
raised some ire with its invocations of 9/11, Minority Report
allegorically addressed the whole notion of “pre-emptive strike”
just as the nation was buckling down to war, and so on. But in the
face of documented historical reality, he blanches and loses his
nerve, resorting to the unimaginative and sentimental: War Of
The Worlds was chilly and non-comforting in its portrayal of
panic on the streets, but Munich doesn’t hesitate
to threaten to endanger the lives of children as the ultimate threat
to audience sympathies. No children die, of course; a main suspense
set piece almost kills a young girl. Bana may feel bad about killing
Palestinians, but what really makes him tear up is hearing his absent
daughter’s voice over the phone, and so on. Even more facile
is Spielberg’s/Kushner’s strategy for humanizing the
assassination targets: They never appear until just moments before
their deaths, where they do something humane and lovable like call
their daughters or strike up a friendly conversation with Bana.
This strategy is repeated ad nauseam, and it’s never more
Short-lived political controversies aside, Munich is
a didactic parable (coming from the author of Angels In America,
that’s not terribly surprising) that serves both as a plea
to stop the cycle of killing in the Middle East and an obvious screed
against the War on Terror: Violence is an endless cycle and so forth.
Didacticism has little to do with aesthetics though, and Munich
is a lopsided piece of work, dazzling at first but eventually spiraling
into a lecture of platitudes.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...