The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, May 29, 2006


This movie takes a certain amount of dedication from a viewer. First of course is the 2 hour, 45 minute run time. Strictly speaking, that's more time than they needed to tell the story and is indicative of the several slow spots you will hit during the course of events.

Second is the fact that while the bulk of the movie is in English, some of the accents are thick and difficult to understand, and several conversations take place in other languages with subtitles that could have been clearer (the script is dialog heavy, and writing out the long sentence structures, delivered quickly, means small type flashed more briefly than you might like. And sometimes the white font on light backgrounds is a bit difficult to read).

Then there is a disconnect between action-adventure and intellectual detachment in the story. In other words, there is something to annoy both types of audience. And finally, there is a strong sense of ambivalence from Spielberg that communicates itself through the plot and leaves one feeling inevitably ambivalent about the movie as well.

The DVD from Netflix very simply contains just the film, without special features save for an optional "introduction" by Steven Spielberg. I put introduction in quotes, because it is more of a standard studio publicity short that shows some making-of scenes and snippets of commentary from Spielberg. It's not really an introduction, but more of a self-justification leveled at early reviewers who attacked the film from one side or the other. Spielberg talks about how "this isn't a documentary, it's a movie" and "we used the most complete source material we could find, which has been attacked, but never discredited." (More on this later.) He also discounts attacks that the film is anti-Israel (although I have also read reviews calling it Zionist propaganda!). I recommend watching the "introduction" after the movie, if at all.

The basic plot line is easy to relate. The film starts with the factual terrorist incident at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Germany, when the Israeli team was taken hostage and eventually killed. It was a major media event and Spielberg uses some real TV clips from the time, combined with re-creations of the action.

Israel, and particularly the Mossad - their secret service and counter-terrorism agency - decided to sanction assassinations of the terrorists involved in the Munich incident. The rest of the movie follows a small team of non-professionals as they track down and kill the killers. Some attempts go smoothly, others not so well.

We keep lurching unevenly from slow speeches and meditations on the morality of the assassination response and the personal doubts and changing viewpoints of the hit squad to suspense and action sequences complete with driving bass lines, graphic and bloody death scenes, and loud gunfire/explosions. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

Some of the expository dialog is rather clunky. An early scene with Golda Meir deciding to authorize the operation suffers from "script language" as she voices her entire thought process to a room full of people who don't react or respond in any way. It is obviously just a piece of narrative aimed straight at the audience. Similar scenes pop up from time to time as Mossad agents chat amiably and loudly about the details and justification for their incredibly secret and illegal operation while walking along crowded public sidewalks.

I thought the acting was generally good. Eric Bana as the leader of the hit squad occasionally looked a bit wooden - especially in early scenes, but made up for it with some good emotional depth in later scenes. Daniel Craig played a hot-headed member of the squad and I thought he was a little over-the-top. He is matched in overambitious intensity by Geoffrey Rush as Bana's Mossad case handler and contact. The rest of the supporting cast acquitted themselves well. I particularly liked Mathieu Amalric as a mysterious French intelligence source.

The movie starts with a bang, showing us the Munich hostage situation. Then it abruptly slows to a crawl as we set up the mission. It shifts in and out of gear with the first two assassinations and the prelude and epilogue to each. Then there is a long build up of tension as the team starts running into difficulties and higher stakes. We abruptly come crashing back down to a finish, only to find to our surprise that there is more movie still to come! Steady pacing is not a strong point of Munich.

There is a very important scene towards the very end that most reviewers seem to have completely missed the significance of. I can't discuss it here, as it is spoiler material. All I can say is that when you are feeling fatigued and losing interest in the long slow wrapup portion of the film, try to keep your concentration up during a flashback sequence (vituperously derided by many reviewers) and subsequent talky bit between the two main characters. It is very important and summarizes Spielberg's unanswered proposition about the events portrayed in the film.

That unanswered proposition is the heart of the movie. Spielberg wants to humanize all the participants and examine justifications (real or as imagined by the players) from both the Arab and Israeli point of view. This movie should be seen as a direct counterpoint to - and in conjunction with - Paradise Now (preferably within a short period of time, but in either order) to get the same ambivalent viewpoint from the Arab terrorist side.

I mentioned the source material up near the front of this review and said more about it later. I think it is interesting to note that George Jonas, the author of "Vengeance" (the book on which Munich is based), said in the L.A. Times in January of 2006:

"Munich" follows the letter of my book closely enough. The spirit is almost the opposite. "Vengeance" holds there is a difference between terrorism and counterterrorism; "Munich" suggests there isn't. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult. Spielberg's movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it."

That's an important distinction and one that defines Spielberg's vision and what he was trying to communicate. Audiences should take note that his movie is not necessarily representative of other takes on the same material.

There's enough good stuff in Munich to warrant a recommendation for renting the film. But be warned that it has some significant flaws and demands a lot from you.

Parents, this is not a film for children to be in the room with. Deaths are frequent and very bloody. There is nudity and sex (not pornographic, but obvious).


At 5:38 PM, Blogger Darren Lewis said...

Netflix must have broken copyright with their version of this movie! Because it's not the version I have!


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