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Friday, January 27, 2006 

Review: Munich

It's strange that Munich seems to have bi-passed the American public, given the director, the heavy subject matter, and the director's knack for tackling heavy subject matter. It's also gone virtually ignored by all the major awards ceremonies. Set following the tragic events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which eleven Israelis were murdered, Munich picks up with the Israeli government enlisting five would-be assassins to repay the blood spilt at Munich by Palestine. Chief among them is Avner (Eric Bana), an inexperienced Mossad agent who must commit murder without hesitation.

While this is an uniformly excellent film, I came out of the cinema not feeling as emotionally rocked as I expected. Certainly Spielberg's direction is as sound here as it's ever been, all of the principal cast make terrific turns, and plot never loses focus or becomes undone through a "I could've got one more out." forced sentimentality. Nevertheless, while taking the audience on a journey it sorely needs to go, Munich begins wanting to be profound and to the point but ultimately comes off loose and limber; and it took me a good half an hour to finally settle down and forget I was watching a movie. The initial pace is plodding but never tedious, naturally upping the frustration (which thankfully strays the right side of melodrama) and building to a genuinely heart-felt conclusion.

But Spielberg never really gives us time to get to know our characters. Avner is whisked away on his mission from God in a matter of minutes. Clearly this is a deliberate choice but it robs us of any emotional connectivity with Avner, we are denied any kind of glimpse into the eyes of our protagonist until we have earned his trust. This was a glaring problem for me: while I can understand the reasoning behind it, (we're thrust into this world just as suddenly and naively as Avner is) it cheats us as the audience a chance to invest in the story and, in turn, Bana's nifty characterisation. These are minor grieveances with the film, but they upset the tone for me at least, and left me nagging for a little more. Spielberg's obvious want for objectivity is one to be admired and really doesn't mar the film in the slightest, I just think we perhaps could've gained more by understanding who Avner in the first place rather than having it revealed to us.

There's an awful lot this film does right, though, both on levels of complexity and style. Be it intercutting between drama and sweaty sex, or the shocking frank violence held over from Schindler's List, Spielberg is completely in his element. In the end, I find myself viewing Munich as a film I respect more than I thoroughly enjoy, but this robs it of none of its credibility. It's a bold, unassuming piece of work which doesn't take sides and brazenly casts aside formulaic 'drama/thriller' cliché. Not quite what I was expecting, but a formidable undertaking nonetheless.

Verdict: 8/10

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