Despite its lengthy running time, Munich is a remarkable feature and a valiant effort from all involved. Director Steven Spielberg is back to the top of his game (after War of the Worlds), composer John Williams accentuates Spielberg’s prowess, and the cast is without a weak spot. Inspired by real events, Munich is utterly stirring to watch.
Don’t think for a second that Munich exclusively retells the tragic murders of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. These murders only serve as the vehicle to a more-expansive motion picture. While Munich does take an eye-opening glance at what happened in Munich, it then concentrates on the after-effects—more specifically, how the Israelis avenged the killings.
Subsequent to the Palestinian terrorists slaying 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games, a group of Mossad agents – led by Avner (Eric Bana) – are hired to hunt down and assassinate all the members of Black September who were involved in the Munich murders. As the men eliminate their targets one-by-one, they begin to lose sleep, question their principles, and have reservations their about their goals and actions.
Specifically, throughout the process, the characters appear to pose questions like: Can the War on Terror be won? Do those who invoke terror begin by simply needing to collect a paycheck and provide for their family? Is war merely a constant connection of unjust retaliations? Does war serve anyone any good? Should one sacrifice their personal morals to seek international revenge?
Amid all of its wartime violence, a humanistic tone encapsulates each of the characters—Israeli or Palestinian. For example, when one terrorist shares his Palestinian viewpoint with Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) the “toy” maker, it seems plausible and analogous to that of the Israelis. Likewise, when a Black September target small talks with Avner on a balcony and wishes him sweet dreams before entering a bed rigged with a bomb, the target’s charm seems authentically brotherly. Nonetheless, in the minds of soldiers and citizens, war is fundamentally unavoidable. Military and non military will continue to fight for their right to land and a place to call home.
Although Munich is predominantly billed as an action picture filled with conflict and terrorism, it’s so much more. Munich is an earnest nail-biter, a cerebral thriller, and an affecting exercise in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you’re not on the edge of your seat, it quickly becomes apparent that the actors were emotionally absorbed in their characters’ anxieties and passion. For instance, seeing Bana paranoid enough to tear apart a mattress, a phone, and a television and then sleep on the closet floor is distressing and effective. Additionally, Munich’s most emotive moment occurs when Eric Bana cries amazingly genuine tears, as he listens to his character’s daughter speak to him over the phone. At this moment, the audience forgets that they’re watching a Hollywood production and instead sees a distraught father weep.
Even conscious of Munich being rushed from production to screen within six months (for Oscar consideration) shouldn’t deter audiences from considering it as one of Spielberg’s best. Granted, Spielberg could have nursed the spirit of the picture more, pared it down in length, and extracted the slightly ostentatious tone. Nevertheless, one can appreciate the stern, yet somehow impartial, perspective from a gifted director—especially considering the man is Jewish himself.
In Munich’s closing shot, Spielberg captures a pre-9/11 Manhattan skyline in the backdrop. As the Twin Towers stand tall behind Avner and Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), one can only draw poetic parallels between the terrorism just witnessed on screen and the occurrences of that blue-skied Tuesday. Just like the film in its entirety, this scene alone is poignant, arousing, and inviting of analysis.