Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Movie Review: Munich

At the heart of Steven Spielberg's latest offering, Munich, is a much-needed message about the futility of vengeance and the way it will always, frustratingly, lead to more suffering and violence. Munich is inspired by the true events of the aftermath of 1972's assassination of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by Black September, a Palestinian paramilitary organisation. Following the assassinations, Avner (Eric Bana), a former bodyguard to Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), is commissioned by her and her cabinet to go after the perpetrators and kill them. Avner is given four team members: Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a toy maker who used to disarm bombs and is now asked to make them; Carl (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), who cleans up the scene after each killing; Steve (Daniel Craig), the trigger man; and Hans (Hanns Zischler), who is a document forger. Avner's team are completely 'disowned' by the Israeli government and are paid anonymously for their services as they, one by one, track down and kill those on their list of names - paying a family mercenary group for information and resources. As they proceed with their actions, the moral clarity which Avner feels at the beginning becomes increasingly muddied along with his doubts about the actual involvement of some of the targets in the Munich attack. He moves his family to Brooklyn for safety as his paranoia accelerates. Despite the attempts to keep his identity secret, the Israeli government want the world to know that they are paying back those who have perpetrated crimes on their people, and Avner becomes identified with the killings. (Why the attempt to keep the activities secret whilst calling attention to them politically is never explained.) The ruthless killings take a permanent emotional toll on Avner and his team which affects his whole life and family, finally leading him into an isolated exile. Munich, although a little too long, is an intelligent, suspenseful thriller that demands a significant amount of energy from the viewer. This is a good thing -- too many movies demand nothing from us except to sit and passively absorb drivel. Munich has us leaving the cinema needing to work hard at thinking. The acting by Bana is superb and moving. The story makes it clear that ordinary people are engaging in extraordinary acts whose effects penetrate to the very soul. There are moments of heart-stopping tension, deep emotional sensitivity, and penetrating dry humour. Munich is a controversial film and Spielberg has been described as 'no friend of Israel' and his film has been criticised as an attack on Palestinians. Spielberg clearly doesn't want to take sides but, as a result, has ended offending both. The film is morally ambiguous in the sense that it doesn't give any easy answers. But it is powerful in its clarity at defining the issue itself. This is an indication of the moral potency of Munich because it is asking the viewer not to take sides, but to have the courage to look beyond the conflict itself to the universal moral themes that lie beneath the actions of everyone and to think through them ourselves. The moral issue of Munich is succinctly raised when President Meir, in an early meeting with her advisors, says, 'Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.' But Spielberg clearly wants to raise doubts about the validity of this moral premise. Later in the film, Avner questions the ethics of his government when he exclaims that, 'Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong... If these people committed crimes we should have arrested them.' There is a massive difference between justice and revenge. The quote from Avner hints at this distinction and the film witnesses to the enormous difficulty that humans have in pursuing justice rather than allowing the lust for vengeance to push us into a similar evil to that which we are attempting to stop. When we consider the relevance of Munich to our present world, it doesn't take much effort to see that, with the threat of terrorism, each government (and we who are represented by them), must ask the same question implied by Meir's statement: How far are we prepared to go in compromising our own values to protect ourselves? We have already seen evidence of corruption in events surrounding the war on Iraq, the management of displaced peoples, and other political decisions made "in the interests of our freedom". And a shot with Avner's case-officer (Geoffrey Rush) walking with him along a Brooklyn waterfront with the Twin Towers behind them, makes the relevance of the film to our day even more poignant. In provoking us to think about these issues, Spielberg is truly a "friend" of all sides of conflicts. Without courageously dealing with the issues his film raises there will be nothing accomplished but more suffering, violence, and bloodshed. This is a very important film -- put it on your must-see list! My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'This is Spielberg operating at his peak - an exceptionally made, provocative and vital film for our times.' - Ian Nathan/Empire Negative Review 'It's too turgid and redundant to have any real impact. As a thriller, it barely thrills; as a lecture, it has nothing new to say.' - Robert Wilonsky/Dallas Observer Content Warning strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language Related Links

No comments:

Post a Comment