MUNICH is quite frankly a masterpiece of film storytelling. Whether or not it is great history – is frankly, not for me to decide. That MOSSAD Agents are lining up to essentially attack the film for claiming that they might have a conscience… well, sadly – that’s the whole point of the film.
You see, this was a film made by a man with a conscience. Spielberg is a citizen of the world that makes films for everyone in the world to enjoy. He’s an incredibly emphatic person who can’t help but think about what he would think if he were put into the incredible situations that the characters (fictional or non-fictional) that occupy his cinematic universes.
Is it really surprising that someone that loves PINNOCHIO would imbue his hardened characters with a Jiminy Cricket? I find it hard to imagine not being haunted by killing anyone. It’s kinda why I try to avoid intensely violent situations. Most every review I’ve seen for MUNICH seems to reflect directly upon the direct actions of the film. The retaliation of the Israeli government upon those responsible for the Munich Olympic slaughter of Israeli Athletes. That is the surface level story that the film is telling, but I also feel that Spielberg’s film is dealing with something greater than just the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
The haunting last shot – seems to suggest a last question from Spielberg to the audience. What will be the end results of our own bloody vengeance? If you can trace modern terrorism back to Munich – what bloody retribution will come from an escalation of bloody vengeance taken to a new scale in the wake of the removal of those ghostly towers in the closing shots.
What paranoia and nightmares are we giving the young men today that we send out to get our bloody revenge? Where will they move? How will they live?
Sure, I’m a bleeding heart liberal that feels the country should have spent every cent we’ve spent on this revenge towards eliminating the internal combustion engine and devaluing oil, thus marginalizing the importance of the region. That America should have led through innovation, not bloodshed. That our capitalistic tendencies and good ol American know how are more valuable toward demonstrating the perseverance of our country – rather than bombs and blood. Again, I’m a peacenik. I know.
Spielberg’s film is about the debate about what to do when assaulted. How do we react? How will they react to our reaction? And he does it with a case study of what happened in the past when Israel’s pride was bloodied, and they sought to bloody all responsible. He seeks to remind us of the historical precedent of retribution and it’s end result of eye for an eye bloodshed, which in turn never ends. And his character, Eric Bana, chooses to put away the weapons of vengeance to attempt to break bread in a new life in a new land. To begin again. Raise his child, love his wife. Re-take his life.
These are important messages. And Spielberg tells them in the confines of a genre I really really love. Essentially – this is a spy film. A Men on a mission film. God, if MISSION IMPOSSIBLE or JAMES BOND operated on this level of cinema – we’d truly live in a better world of film.
Beyond the heady moralism that Spielberg imbues the film with, he creates a lean focused narrative about a 5 men team operating to hunt and kill 11 men. As the missions start – they’re careful about collateral damage. Seeking to isolate the vengeance to those they are told were responsible. Then – as the missions get harder and harder – the fire of vengeance takes everyone around the target in question. Leaving bloodier and bloodier scenes in their wake.
The gore in the film is terribly haunting. The effects of bombs upon a human body, bullets and death – all unflinchingly told. I love this Spielberg. I’m told he was shooting almost entirely on instinct on this film, and under the gun of a quick release, his instincts held true. This is the surest and least flabby flick he’s made in years.
This feels less like the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski – and felt a bit more like Douglas Slocombe’s work in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – it is very classically shot. It also reminds me of Bill Butler’s work on THE CONVERSATION. In fact – there’s a lot about this film that reeks of seventies filmmaking. The colors and stock used in making this film had a friend behind me exclaim at the end of the film, “Finally a movie that looks like a movie!” Indeed.
This is a hard film that wants to get inside the men that are sent to do the things we don’t want to think about. The film wants to humanize them, and if the film has a fault – it’s in daring to do exactly that. The film doesn’t just humanize the assassins, but the targets. Not only that - Steven dares to put them in the same room, to find a music they can both stand. To have the leader of a PLO group talk with a leader of an Israeli group about the resolve and hopelessness of either's situation. The scene reminded me of the same scene in Michael Mann's HEAT. The result is the best dialogue between two characters on film this year.
We like to think of those on the other side as inhuman retches of society. They probably eat animals raw – or even fetid rancid with maggots. They spend all their time sharpening knives and acting like crazed madmen frothing at the mouth. They hate life and go around slapping anyone that looks at them.
In the 40s when we went to war with Japan, Italy and Germany – we made them inhuman monstrosities. It’s easier to kill an animal, than a man. Here, Spielberg attempts to defuse that by making these plotters of the unthinkable… just men. Intellectuals that would translate books to further their culture. That have cute children and loving wives. That appreciate a night sky and young love. That dream of living where their fathers lived and raising an olive tree. A people that dream of a better tomorrow, but dedicated to die for that dream. Same as the men that are hunting them.
When the film turns into a film about the hunters being hunted – that is when the tension levels raise to an incredibly uncomfortable level. When a pay-off to a “funny anecdote” about a MOSSAD agent that one of the crew once knew and his sleeping habits occurs, the film truly hits a scary stage.
There’s a part of me that wishes that Spielberg would just make films set in cinematic periods. His eye and his attention to detail is so loving. He truly captures the era, tone, sound and feeling of those films. This isn’t a flashy film that seems to call attention to its technique. It’s just nuts & bolts filmmaking at the top of Spielberg’s game.
The casting of this film is just exceptional. Bana is a great Spielberg protagonist. Daniel Craig’s appearance has me sad. He’s very very good in this, and I hate to see him prematurely dooming his career by taking on Bond. I love that Spielberg cast Ciaran Hinds as one of the more likable characters. He’s a great character actor that is often found playing heavies, and here – he’s a mysterious conscience and wise man of the group. Taking AMELIE’s lover and turning him into a toymaker/bomb maker was genius. He’s such a great face and performer. The use of Geoffrey Rush – it is strange. Ever since he played Peter Sellers – I honestly can’t look at Rush the same way. To me – this is exactly how Peter Sellers would have played this part, and I love it. Because Sellers was one of my favorite actors.
My favorite character in the film is played by Hugo Drax. After his Space Shuttle plan failed – he apparently came back to Earth and settled down to a nice life of information exchange in France. Heh. I love Michael Lonsdale – and his appearance in this film was a real treat. His Papa was such a treat. I love deadly serious dialogue scenes between men while cooking. Be they Coppola or Johnny To – they’re scenes that instantly command the attention. One – you’re thinking. What are they cooking? Two – What is this a metaphor for? Then you wonder… What does that taste like? Then – MMMMMm, bet that’s good. Or… maybe that’s just me.
Honestly – I don’t want to see Spielberg do an Abraham Lincoln film – and in many ways – I’m really not anxious at this juncture to see him do another INDIANA JONES. What I am dying to see him do is a period Musical or Film Noir. I’d love to see Spielberg’s take on Horror. I’d love to see him do a swashbuckler. And a few more paranoia thrillers and something romantic.
And I want him to make 3 movies a year. Because I think the less time we give him to make a movie, the better the film will be. It reminds me of that old saying that Harrison Ford used to say was the only bit of direction that Lucas gave him, “Faster and more intense.” Exactly Steven. Faster and more intense… like this one!