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Awesome: 34.91%
Worth A Look36.79%
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10 reviews, 46 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"The List Is Death"
3 stars

Despite the suggestion of the title, Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” is not about the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by the Palestinian group Black September and eventually killed as the world watched on television. Instead, it concentrates on the retaliatory campaign instigated by Israel against those who were alleged to have helped plan the Munich operation. What the film is really about, we eventually discover, is that vengeance is not necessarily the answer and that those who pursue the eye-for-an-eye agenda, no matter how justified they may seem to be in doing so, run the risk of harming themselves spiritually and emotionally in the long run as much as their targets harmed them physically in the first place. (If his recent “War of the Worlds” can be read as his view of 9/11 and “The Terminal” as his look at post-9/11 America,, “Munich” appears to be his examination of the mindset that led to 9/11 and its current aftermath in the first place.) This is not a new idea by any means–it is a theme that filmmakers running the gamut from Akira Kurosawa to Wes Craven (remember the agonizing final reels of “Last House on the Left”?) have explored–but Spielberg approaches it as though he is the first director to ever consider such things. Because of this, he spends so much time underlining the agonies and doubts that his central characters endure as they go about their mission of revenge that he winds up undercutting the queasy tension and conflicted feelings that the story could have inspired on its own. As a result, “Munich” is a maddeningly frustrating film–it is impeccably made, contains a couple of brilliant performances and is perhaps the most ambitious of Spielberg’s “adult” films since the underrated “Empire of the Sun” but in the end, what should have been a powerful and angry work winds up not having much of an impact at all.

Like many recent Spielberg films, “Munich” kicks off with a bravura opening sequence–this time chronicling those terrible 21 hours in Munich that ended in unimaginable tragedy. In a brilliant masterstroke, Spielberg delivers these events in much the same way that people around the world were exposed to them–through confused media reports that often announced one thing while wildly different events were going on just out of camera range. In a series of quick establishing shots, he sets the scene and illustrates the impact by showing people from around the world watching the unfolding events with grief, shock, elation, horror or incredulity, depending on the point-of-view of those doing the watching. For those old enough to remember the actual events, this sequence will bring their impact back with a shock and for those too young to have seen them first-hand, it serves as a handy primer that sets the scene in the most efficient manner possible.

Immediately after the attacks, Mossad officer Avner (Eric Bana) is summoned by Prime Minister Golda Meir for a meeting of the utmost secrecy. It has been decided that Israel cannot let this offence go unpunished and while they will not do anything on an official basis, they present Avner with a list of 11 names (yes, the same number as the athletes killed) who were allegedly in on the plot. The mission is simple: Avner and his men–hard-ass driver Steve (Daniel Craig), introspective clean-up man Carl (Ciaran Hinds), forger/accountant Hans (Haans Zischler) and edgy bombmaker Robert (Matthieu Kassovitz)–are to track down the people on the list and kill them. Using ingenuity, luck and expensive inside information, the group travels around the world to do just that with varying degrees of success. The first, the coldly efficient shooting of a book translator in an apartment hallway, goes off easily enough but later attempts have enough hiccups to give them pause–one nearly ends in disaster when a child unexpectedly wanders into the target zone while another almost kills Avner himself when the hidden bomb turns out to be unexpectedly powerful. As the months drag on, all the members of the group, aside from the eternally gung-ho Steve, begin to have second thoughts. By killing people in cold blood, despite their seeming justification, are they reducing themselves to the level of their enemies while simultaneously inspiring them to greater heights of violence? Furthermore, how do they know for sure that the names they have been given truly are those responsible for the Munich massacre in the first place?

Purely on the level of a jangled-nerve political thriller, “Munich” is a powerful experience. The extended set-pieces of the killings are as brilliantly conceived and executed as anything in recent memory–they have been meticulously put together with enormous technical verve and audacity, yet somehow come across in such a natural way that you don’t notice all the planning that must have gone into getting them on film. One considerable highlight is a sequence involving a bomb hidden in a telephone and a couple of unexpected arrivals–it is so nerve-shreddingly tense that it brings to mind Brian De Palma at his most audacious. Considering the speed in which Spielberg put together this film (he only began shooting at the end of May of this year), the fact that “Munich” looks as good as it does is a tribute to the gifts of Spielberg and his longtime collaborators, specifically cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn.

Where “Munich” stumbles is in the scenes where the kinetic thrills are meant to be replaced by dramatic ones. As Avner and his men become more disenchanted with the mission and the duties that they are meant to perform, the screenplay by Tony Kushner forces them to deliver speech after speech in which they articulate these feeling ad nauseam. The film even supplies Avner with a newborn daughter so that he can philosophize about what his daughter might think of him if she knew what he was doing in the name of “peace.” A little of this goes a long way but the script keeps heaping it on to the point where nearly every team member gets to deliver a speech questioning the logic of what they are doing–to make matters worse, many of these turn out to be their last major on-screen moments before they wind up leaving the scene for good. Although some have claimed that “Munich” is not as emotionally manipulative as some of Spielberg’s other works, his insistence on beating audiences over the head with the idea that violence solves nothing suggests otherwise. I personally feel that it would have been a much more effective film if it had allowed the men to simply go about their mission and had their growing uneasiness gradually emerge from the proceedings without any of the emotional speechifying and especially without the final shot, an image that was no doubt meant to be haunting and poetic but, coming on the heels of all that we have seen before, loses a lot of its hoped-for impact . (Imagine what William Friedkin might have done with this material back in his post “French Connection”/”Exorcist” heyday in the mid-1970's.)

I am even more convinced of this because the best elements of “Munich” are the ones featuring the more morally ambiguous characters. Geoffrey Rush is creepily effective in his scenes as the Mossad higher-up craftily guiding Avner and his men towards a purpose that he may not even know the full details of and Daniel Craig is memorably cold and cruel as the one group member not inclined to make speeches–the ruthless efficiency that he displays here is the best suggestion to date that he may prove to be a good James Bond after all. However, the film is completely stolen by two small supporting performances that come out of nowhere and dominate the proceedings so thoroughly that you begin to wish that the film was about them. The first comes from Michael Lonsdale–probably best known to American viewers from his key role in “The Day of the Jackal” (an obvious template for “Munich”) and as the bad guy in “Moonraker”–as a silky-smooth peddler of information who is all the more terrifying because he has no ideological concerns or boundaries; he will deal with anyone as long as the price is right and is cheerfully willing to sell the whereabouts of his customers to those they are hunting without hesitation. The second comes from Marie-Josee Croze, whom you may recall from her award-winning turn in “The Barbarian Invasions.” Here, she pops up in a bar at a certain point and flirts with Avner–to say more would ruin a key moment but her brief appearance, alternately sexy, terrifying and tragic, is perhaps the most memorable work turned in by an actress in any Spielberg film.

Because of these elements, in conjunction with the technical finesse that I have already mentioned, I suppose that I can more or less recommend “Munich” with a clear conscience. However, I cannot deny the fact that by the time it finally ended, I realized that it wound up making far less of an impact than I would have imagined possible from a film with this particular subject manner. It is an occasionally impressive work and if it had been made by a relative newcomer, I would probably be praising it for its technical skills and its obvious ambitions. However, coming from the likes of Spielberg, who can be among the best and most persuasive of filmmakers when he sets his mind to it, it just feels like it should be better and truer and deeper than it ultimately is.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13666&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/23/05 00:08:31
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User Comments

12/28/17 Tom Philpott Terrible, terrible movie. BANAVICH AND RUSH ARE TERRIBLE IN THIS STINKER. 1 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell AWESOME BUT 2 LONG 4 stars
9/30/14 KingNeutron Well worth watching - very well done; see it for the history 4 stars
10/18/10 bored mom Bland film for the wise. Reading real-life media reports and history texts is way more fun. 3 stars
12/20/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
10/15/08 BLUTARSKY 2 movie that making you think 4 stars
7/31/08 ben dover awesome acting craigs accent is spot on 4 stars
3/02/08 ladavies I wanted to love this movie, but I didn't. I'm not sure what went wrong. 3 stars
4/09/07 KLAATU very interesting, disturbing but ultimately involving film.4 stars. 4 stars
3/26/07 kathy underheart childress is a selfimportant bore. Loves his own voice more than he loves Spielberg. 1 stars
3/15/07 R.W.Welch Less than gripping account of Round 253 of the Arab-Israeli feud. 3 stars
2/08/07 Stanley Thai A very good film with very suspenseful scenes! 5 stars
10/20/06 AnnieG Oddly edited, but compelling movie. 4 stars
7/12/06 Phil M. Aficionado But for a couple of "turn off" scenes/techniques, brilliant work; I give it 4.5 stars. 4 stars
6/30/06 ALDO i didn't like it b/c bad character development & action get tiresome 2 stars
6/27/06 daveyt enjoyable, well made film. Left me feeling a bit abivalent though... 4 stars
6/25/06 Indrid Cold Spielberg does well with a difficult subject, but the entertainment value is fairly low. 4 stars
6/12/06 MIchael Interesting "serious" Spielberg take on Munich. 4 stars
5/30/06 stephanie willis A mesmerizing film! 5 stars
5/16/06 SteveO Man loses part of his soul in quest for vengeance - seen it all before, but it still works. 4 stars
5/15/06 millersxing insightful and unrelenting; doesn't pull punches or revise history 5 stars
4/17/06 ahmed perfect balanced 5 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley Unwieldy gluing together of killings and talk about politics stop this being a masterpiece. 4 stars
2/08/06 Kim Anderson a Masterpiece. Even without a literal battlefield, it's the best anti-war movie ever. 5 stars
1/29/06 john bale Bana & Spielberg come of age in this suspenceful thriller on assassinations downside 4 stars
1/28/06 Agent Sands An incredibly well-made movie with action, drama, and laughs. And Eric Bana is hot. 5 stars
1/27/06 Minette G. Wonderful acting by Bana. Does the end justify the means? 4 stars
1/20/06 Suzz Fewer explosions with more insight into the emotions and I'd have liked it more 4 stars
1/19/06 Ole Man Bourbon Tells us what we already know: shit's complicated. Fun though. 4 stars
1/19/06 james Pretentious and boring. The movie needs major re-editing to be watchable 1 stars
1/09/06 kmdewitt Hard to follow. Kept changing cities with no indication. U see Eric Bana's ass :) 4 stars
1/08/06 John B Thriller about patriotism, with emotional honesty 5 stars
1/04/06 Ahnold Too long which takes away a little from the movie 4 stars
1/04/06 Mike V Sorta obvious but I enjoyed it. 4 stars
1/03/06 Simon Conveys the situation in brutal but honest way. Bores/hazy at times, but an admirable effrt 4 stars
1/02/06 Bill First half is a good spy thriller-last half boring .Major failure to keep the story sharp. 2 stars
1/01/06 Judith Outstanding and multi-dimensional. Great Job of directing . 5 stars
12/30/05 Brad Well Done 5 stars
12/27/05 Sandy Dissapointed 2 stars
12/27/05 Bob best film of year 5 stars
12/26/05 MarkElliot story is predictable, but the actors dialogue/development is also 3 stars
12/25/05 Gini How can this much assassination be this boring? Dreadful 1 stars
12/23/05 Blutarsky Spielberg slips on a banana peel and never gets up. 2 stars
12/23/05 ali sss 5 stars
12/21/05 Mark Spielberg is at the top of his game here. 5 stars
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  23-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 09-May-2006



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