Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

18 February 2006

Film Review - Munich

As I mentioned in my previous post, usually when I decide to see a movie it is with the hope of experiencing something great.
That was not the case with “Munich.”
I was not expecting anything close to greatness from this movie. The reason being that I do not like Steven Spielberg. Back when “Schindler’s List” came out I was very moved by it (and of course as a high school kid I loved the Indiana Jones movies), and so every time a new Spielberg film would come out I would go to it expecting great things from it and I was constantly let down. Constantly. He seemed to have the gift of consistently taking great ideas and turning them into mediocre films. It was incredibly frustrating, but he kept fooling me into thinking that each new film would be something special and it never was.

And then came “The Terminal.”

That movie made me angry. It made me furious. It was so insultingly stupid and manipulative and empty that it actually made me reevaluate all of Spielberg’s work and I realized that all of his films are empty, although he usually is able to hide this fact behind expensive FX and “high-concepts.”
After “The Terminal,” I decided that I was done with Spielberg; I was not going to waste another moment of my life on his hollow stories. I very gladly passed on “War of the Worlds” and planned on skipping “Munich” as well, but then it got nominated for an Oscar.

I decided that if I was going to pass judgment on which film really deserves the Best Picture Award (and I plan on doing just that), I should at least see each of the nominated films. So I went to see “Munich,” but I went with very low expectations.

And what did I think?

Well, it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great either, but it was actually fairly good. Definitely better than I had expected, but not Best Picture material.

Best of all, it was not empty, even if the execution of some of it rang a bit hollow. But the film raises some good issues about the nature of violence and what if anything is really accomplished by the cycle of violence which exists in this world. (For those of you who don’t know, the film is based on the somewhat true story of the group of Israeli agents who were given the job of tracking down and killing the Palestinians who planned the kidnapping and murder of Israel’s Olympic team in Munich in 1972.)

Probably my biggest complaint with the film was its length. It was too long and at times too dull. After the third assassination I was wondering if we were actually going to be sitting through an entire series of 11 assassinations where each time we watch the main characters plan the killing, hit a snag in the plan while also having an existential crisis about the nature of their work, but ultimately carry out the mission. As it turned out, that was basically what the entire movie was, although we graciously did not have to sit though 11 such episodes.

Some of the elements which the screenwriters (Tony Kushner and Eric Roth) added in to keep the action going were painfully forced. An obvious example was having team leader Avner (a fabulous Eric Bana) take a hotel room next to one of their targets so that he could tell his men when the man got into bed. This was meant to add excitement to the story since it put Avner in “danger” when the bomb blast turned out to be too strong and it allows him to gawk at the victim’s body parts hanging from the ceiling, but it made no sense storywise, since the bomb did not trigger until the target got into bed anyways and the detonator had a light on it which told them when the bomb was armed.

Another frustratingly contrived moment was when Avner finds himself having a conversation with Ali (Oman Metwally), a Palestinian terrorist with whom he ends up sharing a safe house. I actually liked the conversation which they had, since it allowed us to hear the Palestinian view of the conflict with Israel, but in order to work this scene into the film, Spielberg and his writers had to have Avner’s information broker, Louise (Mathieu Amalric), purposely set them up to share a safe house with their sworn enemies, yet this betrayal was never addressed anywhere in the film, in fact it was completely ignored. That scene is indicative of my problems with Spielberg as a director. He cares more about creating moments than about creating a cohesive whole. But moments don’t work by themselves if they do not fit into the story around them.


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