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Munich (A Movie Review)

MUNICH (2005)

Starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Geoffrey Rush, Aylet Zurer, Gila Almagor, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Almaric, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Marie Josée-Croze and Yvan Attal.

Screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 164 minutes. Rated R.

Munich isn't an easy film. It's a somewhat depressing, sad, sordid and tragic tale, based on what appears to be a true story. What it is, though, is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

The jump off point for the movie is the tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, in which a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September took the Israeli athletes hostage. A botched rescue attempt led to the death of all the Israelis. This story alone would be enough for a truly compelling film, but the movie is not about the massacres, per se, though they color everything which will come. In fact, the massacre is shown quickly at the beginning and the end of the film and in occasional flashbacks, but the story is mostly about what came in its wake.

After the attack, according to the book which the film is based upon – and the book has never been denied, though granted it's never been officially acknowledged either – Golda Meir and the Israeli government drafted a group of Israelis, all of whom were in the Army but none of whom had training for this kind of mission, to avenge the deaths. Essentially, they became a covert group with no official ties to the government whose only job was finding and blowing up the members of the terrorist group.

However, the deeper that the men get into the mission the more they see the futility of it. For every death they avenge, the Palestinians just take another life. First the Palestinians go after general political targets, then eventually the members of the group themselves. It is like they are trying to patch a crumbling dam. They are losing their colleagues and they are losing their souls.

Some people have complained that this film, particularly as one done by a famously Jewish director, is somewhat anti-Israeli. However I think that is way too simple a way to take the story. The Israelis do some horrible things here. So do the Palestinians. The story is really showing how violence just escalates. In a section of the world where life is cheap, the idea of an eye for an eye just doesn't work because it becomes an endless spiral of reprisals and revenge.

The film closes on a perfect note, a single shot that crystallizes Spielberg's vision. I won't say what it is because I don't want to spoil the moment. However, in one powerful image the director is able to convincingly show the futility of the political game of one-upmanship and the horrible, great loss that it has led to for the entire world. (12/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: May 6, 2006.


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