Movie Review: Munich
Topic: Film & TV
I saw Steven Spielberg's Munich. I did not sleep much or well last night.
Munich tells the story of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes/coaches were taken hostage and ultimately killed by Palestinian terrorists. After receiving the go-ahead from Prime Minister Golda Mier, the Mossad assigns Avner (Eric Bana) to lead a covert, off-the-books team that will track down and kill the men identified as the planners and leaders of the Olympic massacre.
Avner's team includes a bomb-maker, forger, driver, and "cleaner"; they are given unlimited time and money to search Europe for the names on their list. They need some help, thoughso they hook up with some informants, a father and son who distrust governments and their agents, and whose only loyalties are to themselves. Avner clearly can't reveal that this is a Mossad assignment, so pretends he's acting on behalf of "some Americans," but the informants may be selling him out to the next highest bidder.
The team starts finding the men and assassinating them one by one, but the terrorists respond in public with new acts of violenceletter bombs at embassies, hijacked planes, etc. And soon, Avner finds that his team is being hunted in return.
Battles are being waged on many levels here. First and most obvious is the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Olympic massacre serving as both cause and effect. There is the specific battle between Avner's team and the men on their list. There is an uncertain war in the information underground, where everyone is a mercenary; it makes it hard to know who's on your side at any moment. And each man on Avner's teamwell, four of the five men, anywayhas his own internal struggle with their assignment. Avner has mixed emotions: pride in defending his people, anertainty about right vs. wrong in this conflict. He visits his mother and hears about how many members of her family died in the Holocaust, and their lives were given so that Israel could exist; she practically drapes the flag over his shoulders and makes him the bearer of that burden. And he's troubled by the fact that those who gave him this assignment have shown him no evidence that the people on the list were in fact involved in the Munich massacre.
I think the key scene in Munich is where Avner, posing as a German, is chatting in a stairwell with the leader of a small group of PLO terrorists his team has come across. Speaking of the actual land of the state of Israel, Avner asks him, "Is it worth it, fighting over all that nothing?" The PLO guy says yes, it absolutely isthat all of his ancestors have died for this, and all of his descendants will live to make it their fight.
My sense is that Avner was struck, at that moment, by just how similar they were. They both carried the weight of generations past and future, under the flag of some ancient or divine right. They were opponents due solely to the circumstances of their birth, and the teachings of hate that had been passed down through the years. And they were both perpetuating this culture of violence without expecting that their actions would make much of a difference in the long run.
And it was at that moment that I was struck by what I think is the ultimate message of this movie: that this could conceivably go on forever, and that nobody is going to "win" this war. When each action is met with an equally violent reaction, then is the balance ever tilted? Isn't every one of these actions just revenge for a previous one? When does one side in this conflict ever "get ahead" of the other, and even if they did, what would it mean to "win"? These aren't new questions, but it seems as if they fall by the wayside sometimes.
Technically, I thought Munich was brilliant. The script, editing, and direction kept the intensity level high throughout the 2 1/2-hour runtime, and conveyed the subtle internal conflicts as well as the overt ones. The cinematography and art direction worked well together to create a believable 1970s atmosphere. The acting was excellent all aroundespecially Bana, who convincingly portrayed Avner's struggle and spectrum of emotions. The use of actual TV footage was effective, as you hear Peter Jennings and Howard Cosell report on the events in Munich. There was a lot of disturbing imagerya lot of violence in general with the assassinations, yes, but more than thatthere were images of the Munich hostage-taking and killings that were particularly hard to watch; they kept me awake last night.
As far as what's truth and what's fiction, the movie claims to be "inspired by real events," not an exact depiction of the people and methods used to carry out the attacks in Munich and the consequent hunting of the Palestinians. I don't mind if the events aren't exactly as they happened, because I think this movie isn't about the attacksnot the Olympic attack, not the assassinations Avner's team is carrying out. To oversimplify, I think it's about the idea of right vs. wrong, the concept of justified actions as opposed to unjust ones, and the strange sort of neverending hope that both sides have for a better future. Somehow that hope seems oddly, but knowingly, hopeless.
So did I enjoy this movie? Well, it's high-quality all around. It's not an entertaining flick in the "fun" sense, but the questions it raises are worth pondering. I will tell you this: it made me sad, and a little bit scared. And it certainly made me think.
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