When you need a job to be done, always call up the Hulk and James Bond.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics, nine Israeli Olympic athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists, in front of the whole world to see. In retaliation to this, the Israeli government decided to launch a unofficial mission to take out those who were deemed “responsible” for the massacre, by any means necessary. Given the leadership role of the group is Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), an Israeli Mossad agent, who leaves his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that he is doing something that he can be proud of, even if the details are a bit shoddy. Joining him are the likes of Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), Hans (Hanns Zischler), and a former toy-maker-now-turned-bomb-creator, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz). Together, the men will unite and band together to take out those whom they are ordered to take out and while things start off promising, eventually, the hits begin to get a bit messy and leave these five men fearing for their own lives. Not to mention that Avner is starting to get in bed with some shady fellas who he uses as sources, but may also not be able to trust them full-well.
For most of you dedicated DTMMR readers out there (all two of you), you’ll probably realize that I have already done a review of Munich a few years back. And nothing against that review or whatever, but I’ve definitely done some growing in the past few years. Not to mention that I’ve grown a fonder appreciation for Spielberg and all that he puts into his films; no longer is he just “the guy who makes good movies”, he’s now, “the guy who makes good movies and has some incredibly interesting ones, too”. Therefore, it made perfect sense to me to give this movie another shot and see how it is that I felt about it, all these years down the road.
And thankfully, my feelings have gotten better. Even if not everything’s changed.
Munich is, probably, Spielberg’s riskiest movie. Sure, some may say A.I. was, or the real hardcore fans will say 1941 may have been, but I’m afraid that they are wrong, because Munich most definitely is. With Munich, Spielberg was reported to have been given a budget of nearly $70 million, which is fine and not surprising at all considering that it’s Spielberg, but at the same time, when you take into consideration the factors at-play here, it totally is a shocker.
For one, Spielberg cast a largely international cast, with cast-members who weren’t well-known by large audiences (even Eric Bana himself wasn’t a huge box-office draw). Also, he focuses most of his movie on a bloody, violent and downright disturbing mission that does have to deal with the Munich massacre, but is in no way a re-telling of those events (which is something that most studios are looking for when they’re funding a movie). And lastly, if not the most important of all, it has no real end-point. Meaning, the Palestinians and Israelites, even until this very day, are still continuing on to battle and feud with one another, leaving the movie to feel, in a way, incomplete.
But, Spielberg being Spielberg, he makes it work.
A good hour or so of this movie feels like Spielberg getting a chance to make that gritty, dirty and overly-violent Bond movie he’s never been offered and the man takes every opportunity he can to make the feeling last. While this is a two-hour-and-44-minute-long movie, it doesn’t really take us all that long to get to the action of the plot and realize that people are going to be killed in some heinous ways and Spielberg’s not going to shy away from it a single bit. Though it should definitely be noted that the countless killings and murders in this movie are portrayed as horrifying and as shocking as they should be, Spielberg also doesn’t forget about the certain rush, or excitement one can feel when a plan is going into action. There’s a few scenes that highlight this, but they’re all tense to watch and remind us all what it is about Spielberg’s fun side that we miss so much of.
Still though, there’s a lot to this movie that’s very harsh and sad, which works well with Spielberg trying to get his message across and whatnot. From what it seems like with Munich, Spielberg does not think too fondly of the violent-relations that Palestine and Israel have with one another, nor should he; Spielberg knows that religion will continue to separate people till the end of time, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe that any of it should lead to senseless violence or deaths. In a way, Spielberg is basically using Munich as a way to get across his age old message of “everybody, let’s just get along”, but because this message is mostly specific to the never-ending issues between Palestine and Israel, it feels fresh and fully-realized.
No longer is Spielberg preaching! He’s actually got something worth while to say!
Of course though, what usually plagues Spielberg in most other movies, still follows him with Munich, in that he still hasn’t figured out a way to end a strong story, with a strong ending. There’s many endings within Munich, and while none of them are really bad per se, they mostly feel unnecessary and mundane; it’s almost as if Spielberg was like, “Hey, maybe the audience didn’t see my parallels to 9/11 the first time I brought them up. Let me throw another one in there!” Of course, if there’s a director to make any sort of 9/11 parallels to Israeli-Palestine conflict, then it’s Spielberg, but here, it feels over-done and too self-fulfilling – as if Spielberg realized how smart and nifty he was for connecting the literary dots, that he wanted the whole world to see.
But still, Spielberg makes more good decisions with Munich, than he does bad, and while that sounds like faint praise, I can assure you that it’s not supposed to. This is most evident with the cast and whom Spielberg decided fit which sort of roles perfectly, as minor and standard as they may have been. Daniel Craig, despite not being Bond just quite yet, still felt the pugnacious-feel of Steve so well that it would make sense if those in charge of who chooses the next Bond, saw this and decided to give the hunk a shot; Ciarán Hinds brings a certain warmness to Carl, even despite the mean things he has to do; same goes for Hanns Zischler as, well, Hans, another older-man who feels as if he’s being thrown into a situation he never asked for, but is happy to accept the challenge anyway; Mathieu Kassovitz’s Robert is perfectly nerdy that it makes it all the more disorienting to see what it is that he’s actually creating; and Geoffrey Rush, despite his accent really going in and out, still works well with the role as the government official you’re never too sure to trust or not.
Of course though, it’s Eric Bana who the movie depends on the most and he deserves it. Bana is, in other words, an underrated actor, I feel; while he’s never lit the screen on fire quite like he did with Chopper, the guy always shows up in movies, giving it his all, and continuing to show that he can blend in well with any director’s style. Bana’s done it all and it’s about time that he was given his own, dramatic-powerhouse to work wonders with! And that’s what he does as Avner; while the character isn’t necessarily made out to be as “heroic” as some of Bana’s other characters can sometimes be written as, there’s still a lot to this guy that makes you feel as if he’s got everybody’s best intentions at heart and doesn’t want anything bad to happen. Cause, after all, he’s just taking orders.
And also, allowing for Jews everywhere to get laid again.
Consensus: Despite a lackluster ending, Munich is a fact-based spy-thriller with emotion, a well-acted cast, and the usual dose of interesting anecdotes that Spielberg is able to orchestrate effectively.
8 / 10