After Palestinian terrorists infiltrate the Munch Olympic Village in 1972, taking Israeli athletes hostage, a shoot-out at the airport results in the deaths of several terrorists and all the athletes. Stung by the event, Israel sends a secret Mossad team into Europe to find the leaders and perpetrators to assassinate them all, led by agent Avner (Eric Bana), under the control of Case Officer Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush). Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciaran Hinds), Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) and Hans (Hanns Zischler) make contact with the mysterious Louis (Mathieu Amalric) who helps them track down their targets one by one. Avner leaves behind his pregnant wife to avenge Munich, but eventually begins to question his mission's value.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you have ever looked suspiciously at people around you - whether they are driving in a car, waiting at an airport or walking in the street - this film will make you take an even harder look. A sobering and terrifying glimpse of a side of life that is tragically all too real, Steven Spielberg's Munich is as disturbing and complex as the many issues it raises. The horrific fact of Palestine extremists targeting members of the Israeli team at the 1972 Olympics is the starting point, and the mission to kill the perpetrators, is the chilling consequence. There are no answers, only questions, as we almost suffocate in a never-world, where anyone can be located at a price, the horrors of unbridled violence and the imminent confrontation with death, are inevitable.
Tony Kushner's screenplay gets right to the heart of the matter, where the extreme colour of politics and religion is splashed uncompromisingly, like splatter on an infinite canvas of abstract art. The enormity of the story does pose problems, however, and it is easy to become confused by characters, locations and time. Spielberg was doubtless too close to the project and unwilling to leave out details that might have served the film better, if discarded.
Eric Bana makes a convincing transformation from the 'neat, durable man' Prime Minister Golda Meir chooses as head of 'Operation Wrath of God' to the tormented, guilt-ridden family man who lives life nervously looking over his shoulder. When Bana's Avner sits at the dining table with the team of four with whom he is about to embark on a bloody mission of revenge, the jovial nature of their conversation is incongruous. They even joke about the term 'assassin' as they introduce themselves to each other, describing their skills. Mathieu Kassovitz and Hanns Zischler are especially good, and even small roles are important in the hands of Mathieu Amalric as go-between Louis and Michael Lonsdale's terrifying Papa, who runs his 'business of death', from the kitchen. Geoffrey Rush delivers as usual as the Israeli case officer Ephraim, although the casting is curious.
The graphic, unsettling violence is meant to shock us and it does. When Avner nervously shoots his first target as he heads home carrying a brown paper bag filled with groceries, it is a far cry from his last, when the notion of taking a few extra lives make little difference. The violence is on a large scale and so is the film, whose settings in Europe and the Middle East (shot in Budapest and Malta) compound its far-reaching nature. John Williams' score is as multi-faceted as the story's undertones.
Munich offers plenty to talk about. There are many scenes that resonate, like the casual banter over an apartment balcony with a target before the bomb that has carefully been inserted under his mattress goes off. And the ugly killing of the alluring Dutch 'honeypot' on a canal barge. The focus on killing is a poison that spews like venom. Spielberg has taken a topic that is so hot, we can feel the heat. And like its implications, the heat doesn't fade.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Munich certainly makes you think; it might be about the silly continuity error of a man spectacularly falling dead on his chest crushing a large bag of his shopping, in the lift lobby of his apartment block, seen a moment later lying flat on his back. The odd thing is, there is no need at all for the second shot. This thought might keep bothering you for a while, until it is disturbed by one of the many unguarded conversations that various undercover groups have in very public places, ranging from cafes to streets to seaside promenades. Their operations are meant to be clandestine, but waiters and passers by could easily hear the contents, never mind anyone actually trying to listen in.
These are instances of careless filmmaking, which tend to undermine our overall confidence in the filmmakers. Already alerted at the start that the film is 'inspired' by real events, we never know how much is inspired writing and how much is real event. This isn't material, after all, with which the average citizen is intimately familiar. And these flaws are not what we should be thinking about. Maybe we should be thinking about how a smarter Israel would have captured, not killed, its terrorist targets, and paraded them on worldwide TV, showing their mercy - and thus their moral difference.
The film is, all the same, full of interest, especially the depiction of a hazy world of espionage so well articulated by the members of the family whose urbane Louis (a wonderful performance by Mathieu Amalric) is a key source of information on the whereabouts of the Palestinian targets of the Israeli assassination squad. Louis' Papa (another superb characterisation by Michael Lonsdale) articulates all the complexities and aberrations of this shadowy world, where their lives intersect at the most obtuse angles.
At the centre of it all is Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) and here is more food for thought. Why did Steven Spielberg cast Australians Bana as a Mossad agent and Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim, his Case Officer? The subject matter is so culturally intense, it begs for culturally specific casting. Is it that Australian actors are easy to work with and speak fluent English, acquiring accents at will? Not always convincingly in this case. Or is there some profound rationale ... like marquee value in America? (Lior Ashkenazi comes to mind for instance, a top Israeli actor; coincidentally, he stars as a Mossad agent in Eytan Fox's excellent film, Walk On Water.)
It's hard to tell with a film that shows Spielberg at his most earnest and intense, yet without a sense of dramatic purpose. The editorial purpose is clear enough: does revenge killing Palestinian terrorists advance the cause of peace, or even of Israel itself, asks the film, before answering a resounding 'NO'. But Munich, while engaging for the most part, seems far too long. And if it seems too long, the filmmakers haven't succeeded in keeping us focused.
For those really interested in the subject, I recommend Kevin McDonald's outstanding Oscar winning documentary, One Day in September (2000), for a factual and fascinating account of the event itself, with an exceptional interview with the only surviving Palestinian involved.. (World Movies screens it again on the day Munich opens in Australia; January 26 at 9.40am and 11.25pm)
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CAST: Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Gila Almagor, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Meret Becker, Marie-Josee Croze, Yvan Attal, Ami Weinberg, Lynn Cohen, Amos Lavie, Moshe Ivgy
PRODUCER: Kathlen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Barry Me3ndel, Colin Wilson
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCRIPT: Tony Kushner (book 'Vengeance' by George Jonas)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Janusz Kaminski ASC
EDITOR: Michael Kahn ACE
MUSIC: John Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter
RUNNING TIME: 163 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2005