STEVEN SPIELBERG’S MUNICH — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

Munich

I thought so after the first viewing and 10 years later my feelings are still the same – Munich is a great film, one of Steven Spielberg’s top five movies of all time (Jaws, Close Encounters, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List would be the other four, with Minority Report nipping at heels), and a reminder that when a filmmaker is passionately involved in the thematic ambition of the story they are telling, the results can be incendiary and all-consuming. The Blu-ray retains the film’s overwhelming visual beauty and sonic glory. This is a raw and angry story about the impact of violence, grief, and revenge, and the way that Spielberg and his writers, Eric Roth and Tony Kushner, explored various themes and topics within the confines of the political thriller, elevate this film from merely a rush of ruthlessly staged and exhilarating action sequences, resulting in a deeply heartfelt study of a country’s need for vengeance and emotional catharsis. Munich covers the massively upsetting and extraordinarily intense story of the various Mossad agents who were dispatched to find and kill the 11 Palestinian terrorists who made up Black September, and who killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. This is a profoundly moving film experience, a piece of work that juxtaposes sex and violence in a way that’s rarely glimpsed, and the way that Spielberg designed the film stylistically with his immensely talented cinematographer Janusz Kaminski is a thing of geometric beauty. Using zooms, pans, hand-held camera, and always finding ways to cover the proceedings in a stealthy manner, the film has a rich visual style that’s endlessly engrossing and amazing to study in the fine details. The bombing sequences are handled in an ultra-tense fashion, and the raid in Beirut still stands as one of the most visceral, most unsettling displays of close-quarters AK-47 combat ever put to film. Bullets rip apart flesh in this film, with the unflinching camera never turning a blind eye to the bloody carnage all round it.

This is the harshest film of Spielberg’s career, a movie born out of the ashes of 9/11, one that simmers with burning rage and resentment. I love when Daniel Craig’s character so bluntly states “Don’t fuck with the Jews.” It’s a comment that’s meant to sort of be funny, but it’s also meant to reinforce the notion that when push comes to shove, a body of people can take their collective pain and return it to those who caused it in the first place; the cycle of violence that Munich perpetuates is both honest and frustratingly real. The ensemble is stellar across the board, with a perfectly cast Eric Bana leading the unit as the commanding agent, with terrific support coming from underrated Irish actor Ciarán Hinds as a “cleaner”, a pre-Bond Daniel Craig as the getaway driver, Geoffrey Rush in a slyly humorous performance as the group’s government contact, Mathieu Kassovitz as the group’s apprehensive resident bomb maker, Mathieu Amalric as a shadowy French informant who helps the group with tracking down their targets, and other familiar and not so familiar faces rounding out the edges. There are so many great scenes in this film it’s almost a joke to try and list them all. The film crackles with violent, propulsive energy during the numerous action scenes, there’s a truly wonderful sequence with Bana and his crew arriving in an already occupied safe-house with members of the opposition, and an Amsterdam-set interlude that finds the crew going after a drop-dead gorgeous female assassin who has taken out members of their group. And the final, haunting image of a changing-through-the-years NYC skyline pumps up the film’s ultimate message that things are never going to get any better despite how hard we try to change our societal landscape. It’s a troubling, cynical comment to make at the end of such an emotionally draining film, but just look at how things have progressed since the time of this film’s release, and tell me we’re any further along at correcting the mistakes of the past. If anything, we’re headed down an even more dangerous path.

 

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