Saturday, January 21, 2006


2005, US, directed by Steven Spielberg

As a piece of filmmaking, Munich is technically extraordinary. That Spielberg began filming in June 2005 and had a completed film of this level of accomplishment on movie screens by December is nothing short of astonishing; it speaks volumes for his ability to envision completed scenes prior to rolling the cameras. As a genre film - steeped in the methods and moral ambiguities of ultra-secret services and spies - it's top-notch, with crescendoes of tension and a fine portrait of the intelligence netherworld. However, as a commentary on the events and aftermath of Munich - and on terrorism more generally - the report card is, perhaps inevitably, more mixed. While Spielberg re-creates the events of the Munich Olympics in often brutal detail, the bulk of the film follows a secret Israeli revenge team, assigned to kill eleven Palestinian representatives scattered across Europe. Eric Bana plays Avner, the leader of the team, and through him we see the physical and psychological toll the work takes on the men. It's reductionist to see the film exclusively in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for Spielberg clearly aspires to a more universal resonance, a commentary not just on the Middle East, but on the manner in which values of civilization and humanity are compromised through the pursuit of vengeance. It's hardly an original theme - an eye for an eye leaving everyone blind - but there's a real power to the depiction of the growing moral mess in which Avner finds himself implicated. Even with its imperfections, and lingering questions over the actual historical existence of the revenge squads, Munich remains a thoughtful piece of work, one of Spielberg's most intelligent films (while unparalleled as a showman he's often undervalued as a thinker). It also boasts a series of excellent performances, most notably from Eric Bana, who is outstanding, as well as from the Israeli actress Ayelet Zorer as Avner's wife, Daphna.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States