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Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 10:04 am
by arsaib4
While Schindler's List (1993) may remain the most important film to director Steven Spielberg, and understandably so, his latest effort Munich might just end up being the film hes most proud of. Intense and riveting, serious and thoughtful, Munich is arguably the toughest film so far from Spielberg. For once, he has tried to engage his audience, instead of simply providing them with they have come to expect from him. Yet, at the same time, the filmmaker has laid out his case with conviction, both politically and artistically, while realizing that hell most likely be criticized by the same people who have praised him in the past. But instead of hiding in the corner, Spielberg has responded to the criticism. He recently stated that, "The people who attack the movie based on 'moral equivalence' are some of the same people who say diplomacy itself is an exercise in moral equivalence, and that war is the only answer. That the only way to fight terrorism is to dehumanize the terrorists by asking no questions about who they are and where they come from. What I believe is, every act of terrorism requires a strong response, but we must also pay attention to the causes. That's why we have brains and the power to think passionately. Understanding does not require approval. Understanding is not the same as inaction. Understanding is a very muscular act. If I'm endorsing understanding and being attacked for that, then I am almost flattered." Bravo!

Munich depicts the somewhat secretive response by the Israeli government after 11 of their athletes were killed by the Palestinian gunmen (known as "Black September") at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. The title card, "Inspired by true events," allows Spielberg some artistic freedom, and he needs it since hes based the film on a controversial 1984 book "Vengeance" by Canadian journalist George Jonas. For his work, Jonas employed the person who actually led one of the Mossad hit squads to track down the killers. In the film that man, Avner, played by Eric Bana, is a secret agent whos inexperienced enough to be under the radar of most other agencies, and so he's brought in. The dilemmas and the compromises are palpable early on as we watch the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), no doubt under intense pressure, sharing a few words with Avner that more or less sum up what has to be done (a similar sequence from Apocalypse Now [1979] comes to mind). Hes then taken under command by an official named Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), and assigned his duties which need to be performed with four other agents under his leadership.

As the team starts to carry out its targets in Europe with the help of an unscrupulous Frenchman (a brilliant Mathieu Amalric), Munich develops a rigorously grinding, thrusting motion found in early John Frankenheimer and William Friedkin films. (Thankfully, however, the film doesnt feature any sexy car chases, nor are there ubiquitous overhead shots of cities with their names at the bottom.) And that grittiness is partly due to Spielbergs remarkable mise-en-scne and the work of his longtime DP Janusz Kaminski, but the credit truly goes to the screenplay by Tony Kushner who worked on an earlier draft by Eric Roth. The violence, from the initial sequence depicting the siege of the Israeli dormitory to the avenge killing of a Dutch assassin, is convincingly brutal, thus accentuating the air of graveness that persists throughout. (The notion that the film is somehow "entertaining" is beyond me; I was emotionally and intellectually exhausted while discerning Spielbergs every step [yes, Ive learned not to trust him], but needless to say, he stayed on course, and by the end I knew that something extraordinary had taken place.)

But Munich wouldnt be what it is without Eric Bana. His character, one of Spielbergs greatest, is initially forced to transform from a principled, morally honest soldier to a ruthless mercenary (though while continuing to believe in the cause), and then ultimately to a physically and emotionally drained out nobody. And it is due to Banas performance -- his eyes always speaking louder than his words -- that the moral complexities are consistently palpable, and Spielberg takes full advantage by posing his questions that deal with the responsibly of a state through him. Banas Avner is burdened by his past, and his present doesnt offer much relief. Hes fully aware of his responsibilities, yet he cant ignore the deep internal suffering that has been the result of his actions. As soon as he begins to question his task, while realizing that the hunters might become the hunted, he withers away in mind and body (Bana frantically searching for a device that they once installed to eliminate someone is one of the films greatest moments). Spielberg, much like what David Cronenberg did in this years A History of Violence, contrasts the two sex scenes in the film: one before Avner leaves for duty and the one late in the film once he's returned. And as the final sequence unfolds in a Brooklyn garden with the Twin Towers in the background, the filmmaker harks back to an issue dealt by his protagonist's family and foe, and what was the central theme of Violence (albeit in a smaller context): "The importance of a Home and the price one is willing to pay to protect it."

At the end, I would like to thank and congratulate Mr. Spielberg for Munich, the best and most important American film of 2005.

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 10:24 am
by hengcs
Somehow, the film is already in my MUST WATCH list (i.e., regardless of how it performs)!
ha ha ha

no no no, it is NOT because of the director, but the events it deals with, i would still watch it if it were an independent film ...

but I won't be able to watch it till February ...

if only most movies can launch at the same time around the world ... sigh ...
why only "big budget blockbuster" (which may turn out to be not such a blockbuster) ...

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 7:42 pm
by A
Thanks for your very good Review arsaib.
While Spielberg isn`t exactly one of my favorite directors, I will try to see "Munich". Would be interesting to compare it to "One day in September" which was a very good film imo.

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 8:39 pm
by Johndav
Thanks indeed for the review; one Spielberg film i'm looking forward to (more than most). I'd gathered before its release he was determined to make the point about unthinking revenge against "terrorism", which in the light of brutal reactions following 9/11, undermining human rights and the so-called moral high ground, is pretty important at this time. I understand he's surprised many by not being more partially pro-Israel, but he's a decent guy wanting to understand, rather than some gung-ho Zionist.

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2005 5:21 am
by arsaib4
Thanks, guys. The film has and will continue to divide audiences, and that shouldn't be considered a negative. It is uncomfortable to watch, no matter what you believe in. Spielberg loves Israel and believes that it should exist (and so do I), but as he's said, it's that love that demands him to question their policies, and the consequences that they've had to bear for decades.

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 5:41 pm
by wpqx
I'm kinda with arsaib on this one.

Classic Spielberg

Admit it Spielberg is an entertainer first and foremost. Surely one of the most technically impressive filmmakers (perhaps only behind Scorsese), he specializes in entertainment. Films were the good guys win, bad guys lose, and all throughout it's done with a certain level of style. Spielberg's greatest fault has always been to play to the common denominator. He doesn't seem to have much if any respect for the average filmgoers intelligence, and has never made films for anything but the masses. His films are consistently full of really hokey touches (the War of the Worlds reunion, the "Give us our free" speech in Amistad, Elliot getting sick with ET) but we come to expect them, and although I for one certainly cringe you have to realize who you're dealing with.

Munich is entertainment. Due to it's release date it is going to be associated with the art house market, just as Amistad another history lesson for people who never read a history book was. American history might be a particular strong point of mine, but the events of the Munich games aren't. I chose not to refer to it as a massacre, because well the whole mess is a little too muddled.

Eric Bana, who's been kicking around Hollywood's B-list for a few years now is perfect for Spielberg. A face that is familiar but not a huge movie star. After Cruise in War of the Worlds, I suppose Spielberg was a little tired of the big A list movie stars. He wants his assassin to be just that, and Bana is like his character, just enough under the radar to pull off this role. Nothing in any of Bana's previous efforts though hints at his ability as an actor, and for this reason I may have to credit Spielberg the director. Bana gives a fantastic performance here, arguably the best male performance of the year, although I did find the year a little weak for actors. He changes throughout, from self confident to self doubting, from patriotic to exiled, Bana makes his work masterful.

Is the film perfect? Of course not, few if any films are (Well maybe Kane). It is slightly flawed but not to any extreme extent. I'll admit I found the second sex scene to be very poorly done, and as someone here has pointed out, embarassing. I chose not to view the film as anything close to a political picture, because Spielberg never has been a political filmmaker and this film's politics are too simple to make it intriguing. This is a man whose previous political statements were nothing more than caricatures of nazis with pitchforks and horns. The enemy here is a little less drastically evil, and Spielberg makes at least a few attempts to show their side of it. I can applaud him for his first touch of humanism.

The film is great however, much like I found Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can great. It is good filmmaking. It could be better no doubt, and the 164 minute run time pushes it, but I found the film to be quite capitivating. There is a command of suspense, and a general interest in the characters. I also compared this film to Syriana, and I find this infinitely better. Syriana tries to let the audience figure it out, when really it's an overambitious director saying he doesn't know what the hell he's doing maybe you can tell him. Spielberg knows what he's doing and is very calculating, therefore I not only knew all the characters in the film, but what they were doing, and a lot about them. Syriana perhaps could have benefited from Munich's longer running time, perhaps that film wouldn't have been so uncaptivating and pointless.

Like Syriana though Munich is a film that is going to have Hollywood patting itself on the back for "daring" to make. It is really pointless for this self congratulatory nonsense, because let's face it the US hates Arabs, and these films are little more than officially sanctioned racist pictures. Look at history and check some of the WWII films and how they show the Japanese. It was socially acceptable then to hate them, and it's socially acceptable here to hate Arabs, even though they'll never admit it. Perhaps that final shot of the Twin Towers is the filmmakers way of saying "@#%$ you camel jockies". In the process saying that it's not the Jews fault. I'd rather not read too much into it, but let me know if I'm completely high and insane for thinking the way I do about this countries attitude towards Arabs.

Grade A

Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2006 3:28 pm
by howardschumann(d)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (2005)

"For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?"- Matthew 16:26

Steven Spielberg's Munich is a lament for the loss of idealism, not only for Avner (Eric Bana), the leader of an assassination squad, but also for Israel, a country that once proclaimed the supremacy of human values. The film deals with events stemming from the deaths of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany at the hands of a group of Palestinians who came to be known as Black September. It is not a documentary but historical fiction that dramatizes the unofficial Israeli retaliation for the deaths in Munich, depicting the revenge killings of a secret intelligence operation.

There is much bloodshed and horrific violence in the film but there are no heroes and no villains and, to the chagrin of supporters on both sides, the film contains more questions than answers. Will the killings stop the terror or will the men killed simply be replaced by even more dedicated terrorists? What is the result for an individual's soul and indeed the soul of a nation? Is revenge killing ever justified? These are questions in which Spielberg has shown considerable courage in raising.

The leader of the unit is Avner, a member of the Mossad, the Israeli version of the CIA, and the son of a war hero. Though he is reluctant to leave his wife who is pregnant, he does not question his mission out of his belief in the righteousness of the Israeli cause. His team includes Steve, a dedicated Zionist from South Africa (Daniel Craig), a toymaker who has turned to making bombs (Mathieu Kassovitz), an antique dealer (Hanns Zischler) and a veteran military officer (Ciaran Hinds). All work for Mossad and their case officer (Geoffrey Rush), though officially no one has an identity or connection to the organization. The film shows that the primary decision was made by a high member of the government, presumably Prime Minister Golda Meir, who justifies the assignment by proclaiming that every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.

Each assassination attempt is shown in detail, including the planning and the execution as the team carries out its operations in Rome, Paris, Cyprus, Beirut, and Athens. As the killings pile up, the bloodshed begins to take its toll, especially the gory "personal" killing of a woman operative who lured and killed one of the members of their unit. The once idealistic Avner becomes disillusioned by the experience and he and others begin questioning the morality of their assignment and whether it will ultimately help or hurt the Israeli cause. Some like Steve, a hard liner says, "the only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood". One member of the Israeli group, however, says "Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong. We're supposed to be righteous" Another says, "Palestinians didn't create terrorism. Palestinian lands were taken by bloodshed and terrorism".

The Palestinian point of view is represented by a group of Arab bodyguards who unexpectedly share a safe house with the team in Athens, each unaware of the other's true identity. One of the bodyguards, Ali (Omar Metwally) claims that the Palestinians can "wait forever. You don't know what it is not to have a home. Home is everything". Although the film does not take a stand on how countries should react to terrorism, it questions the wisdom of the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" philosophy and the ethical basis of the operation. When Avner concludes, "there is no peace at the end of this", he demands evidence from his superiors that the men they killed were actually involved with the Munich massacre.

Munich is an honest, tightly woven, and very suspenseful film that contains some fine performances, especially that of Eric Bana. More importantly, it asks us to look at what is possible in today's world beyond the exchanging of atrocities, to perhaps even envision the day when claims of religious superiority ("religionism") will be seen as racism and homophobia are today, as relics of an ignorant past. It allows us to dream that the ultimate solution to the Middle East conflict will not be a political one based on dual states enforcing a religious apartheid, but a spiritual solution where direct experience, not ancient scriptures, will lead people to the divine presence.


Re: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH (2005)

PostPosted: Wed Aug 09, 2006 8:25 pm
by arsaib4
"More importantly, it asks us to look at what is possible in today's world beyond the exchanging of atrocities, to perhaps even envision the day when claims of religious superiority ("religionism") will be seen as racism and homophobia are today, as relics of an ignorant past. It allows us to dream that the ultimate solution to the Middle East conflict will not be a political one based on dual states enforcing a religious apartheid, but a spiritual solution where direct experience, not ancient scriptures, will lead people to the divine presence."

Very well said, Howard. I'm glad that you were able to appreciate Spielberg's objectives. But I'm sure that you also respect opposing opinions, especially if they regard yours, a simple concept that unfortunately remains quite foreign to certain individuals we both have come across.