Munich, the new film by Steven Spielberg is a disconcerting experience, intentionally. The director mixes fact and fiction to make a story ‘inspired by real events’, read that to mean it’s not factual in many places but the drama suggests the deeper truths. On that basis the film is successful. I saw the film last Friday and wanted to let the film sit for a few days before writing something. The film is quite moving in places and is much more understated than Spielberg’s previous works would suggest. My biggest criticism of his earlier work is he has a tendency to underline the emotional moments but here he thankfully holds back.
The film chronicles Israel’s response to the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. We follow Avner (beautifully played by Eric Bana in a career making performance) as he is drawn into this web. Leaving his family behind on a mission that may take years he gathers with 4 other agents in Europe to track down the Palestinians responsible. This is not factual as there were separate teams sent out on many missions but Spielberg condenses this for dramatic effect.
As the death count begins to mount the cracks in the facade of what these men are doing slowly begin to show. What begins as revenge and patriotism becomes debilitating to these men. This is wishful thinking as sadly most Mossad agents believe they are doing God’s work as Israel is essentially a religious state. Munich is told from an Israeli perspective and the reason this film is more balanced than one would expect is because it is being told by someone respected in the Jewish world community and not from inside the Israeli community. We do get a sense of the Palestinian perspective in a few scenes that do get the viewpoint across. This is the best statement we are going to get within the large budget Hollywood filmmaking community on this subject, and that is not a criticism. The film is a good one and while there is much more to say on the subject of Palestinians and Israeli’s by the independent and European filmmaking community, Munich deserves a wide audience.
The main reason this film is valid is that it speaks eloquently on the broader themes of revenge, nationhood and homeland. The lessons discussed and learned in Munich are universal. In more than one scene we see other governments and their spies and other underground revolutionaries intersecting. It is a rare moment indeed in cinema to see such things and see them well done. This is a film (like Brokeback Mountain) that people will be talking about, check it out before you’re told too much in advance.