Sunday, January 29, 2006

Review: Munich

"All this blood will come back to us."

Short: There's no good or evil, only vengeance and its consequences. Gory, and long - do not watch on a weak bladder. Generally good, taut, character-driven thriller, standout performances from Eric Bana and fantastic cast, beautifully filmed, another fine example of Spielberg in serious, adult, Oscar-grabbing mode. Let down by overly long denouement and occasional spots of sentimentality. Hey, it wouldn't be a Spielberg film otherwise.

Longer: The thing to remember is that this is not a dramatisation of what happened after the Munich Massacre, when Mossad agents spent the rest of the 70s hunting down and assassinating those responsible. Instead, this story is "inspired" by those events.

Bana plays the lead figure of Avner, who unquestioningly accepts the assignment to avenge the murdered athletes even though it means leaving his pregnant wife behind for who knows how long, and despite his lack of experience as a field agent. His team in Europe comprises a wheels guy, a documents forger, a bomb-maker, and a clean-up man. They have the blessing of the Israeli government to do whatever they must, but that's it. The government will not be culpable. Bana's team are on their own.

Over the course of several months, as they pursue each name on their list with devastating brutality, we see the individual members of the team become increasingly weary of their never-ending hunt. Worse, with each successful assassination, there are bloody and terrifying reprisals elsewhere, and each eliminated target is simply replaced by another up-and-coming terrorist nastier than the one before.

Every man's notion of morality becomes a personal minefield that has to be negotiated afresh with each new mission. Are the target's bodyguards legitimate targets also? What if the target's wife gets in the way? Did we kill too many other people unneccessarily?

They become distracted by extraneous missions, and by uncertainty and infighting. Inevitably, the hunters find themselves hunted. Have they been sold out (and whom by), or have they simply become legitimate targets themselves?

Astoundingly, this is a film that takes no sides, except perhaps the view that vengeance leads only to more vengeance. Munich offers no answers, no pat assurances that if we all just lay down arms and give up the bad fight then everything will somehow magically be better. Instead, Munich tells us that when we answer bloodshed with bloodshed, however just and righteous the cause, all we end up with is bodies. You can never go home again, even if home is what you killed for, and you will never know peace again, even if peace is what you fought for.

Munich is, in some ways, Spielberg's most mature film to date, but it's still not his best film. It is thrilling and chilling, and funny and sweet, and bloodily graphic and morally gray, in pretty much all the right places, and yet, somehow, there is a certain distance. I felt for these characters, enough that I couldn't watch some scenes, but not enough to cry for them or be disturbed by them. Even so, I'm glad I saw this. It's easily one of those films that everybody should see once in their lives. For all its resigned pessimism about the futility of violence, yet it is during moments of violence that the film shows us being at our most human - frail yet selfless, and desperately dependent upon each other, whoever they are.

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