• Steven Spielberg
  • 2006

Munich takes place in the aftermath of the 1972 Berlin Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and eventually murdered whilst the whole proceedings were televised to the world. Eric Bana stars as Avner, a family man and simple bodyguard to Meir who is made the leader of a secret assassination squad ordered to take out the instigators of the plot and revenge the injustice put upon the Israeli atheletes and Israel itself. Avner is assigned a squad of four other people, Steve (Daniel Craig) a trigger man, Hans (Hanns Zichler) a document forger, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) a toy maker turned bomb maker and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) who cleans up the evidence. Together their job is to gather information regarding the whereabouts of the suspects and then to travel across Europe and assassinate them all. Of course given the shaky ethics of the situation they are paid under the table and should they ever get caught or put in danger, their existence would be disavowed by the Israeli government.

Politically-orientated films are quite the hot potato in Hollywood at the moment.

The screenplay for Munich was written by Tony Kushner who has frequently spoken out against Iraeli politics, and the film has been attacked by fundamentalist Jews for portraying the Palestinian side of the story. Nevertheless anyone who has watched the documentary on the killings will realize that the events portrayed are far from unbiased. Spielberg portrays the Israelis as good ‘normal’ people who just want to do the job and take great pains to avoid any unnecessary civilian casualties. Sympathy is also generated through Avner who is forced ‘almost against his will’ to leave his family and unborn daughter in order to kill people and his characters serves as Spielberg’s catalyst for his much loved and ever present schloppy family ethics. Nevertheless there is also a case presented for the Palestinian side of the argument and the film serves ultimately as a metaphor for the fact that both sides were responsible for a series of assassinations that have spiraled out of control and created the tense political environment that we see on the news today.

However, politics aside, Munich is in bare basics, a hit-man film, and a relatively bog standard one that has somehow achieved credibility through veiling itself in some kind of historical and political significance. Spielberg is undoubtedly one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, regularly overtaking the golden $100 million in the box office, usually as a result of his predilection for High Concept storylines that can be written on the back of your hand and quickly and simply absorbed by the masses. If the pitch for Jaws (Spielberg, 1975) was simply ‘Shark Attack’ then Munich can be described as ‘a hitman film’ based on the political events surrounding the Berlin Olympics. And make no mistake Munich is a hitman film first and a political thriller/drama second. We are either treated to, or forced to endure depending on your opinion, no less than 9 assassinations, with a few lines of debate regarding the ethics and morality of the situation and some basic politics regarding the conflict that seem to be hamfistedly pushed in between each assassination.

The three act structure repeated rigorously for almost 3 hours goes something like this; gather information, plan the hit, perform the hit, chat about politics and ethics then plan and perform another hit. Whilst initially interesting this formula quickly becomes very tiresome. Politically-orientated films are quite the hot potato in Hollywood at the moment and it seems all too ripe that Spielberg has made a political film where politics and intelligent debate are pushed to the sideline in favour of overly emotive family tripe and action based hit sequences. After all the hits that can be performed have been accomplished and the film should end we are unfortunately treated to another needless 30 minutes of paranoia just to ensure that we get the fact that all the hits and shady ethics involved have changed Avner from a once happy family man to a paranoid mess. And just incase that didn’t get through to you Spielberg makes it blatantly obvious by ending the film with a needless and shamefully over-emotive sex scene that climaxes in Avner sweatily blowing his load to images of Israeli athletes getting shot in the head. It’s bad enough that his entire family are on file for any other hitman to whip up when they wish but I’m sure everyone in the audience felt more sympathy when they found out that the job has affected his sex life.

Bana is, as ever, exceptional in the lead role.

As a quick plus Bana is, as ever, exceptional in the lead role and the film benefits from a good solid support cast and nice direction and location shooting from Spielberg but this is little consolation considering the many shortcomings of the final script. Pauline Kael once attributed directors Spielberg and Lucas for bringing about high concept and what she calls ‘twerp cinema’ and unfortunately Munich is little exception. With all the current attempts at engaging and thought provoking political films such as Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005) and Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005) as a means of creating a more intelligent and relevant product from the industry, Munich comes across as a film that is walking a dangerous tightrope between an intelligent, relevant political drama and a mindless high concept action blockbuster. The final result is a badly mixed cocktail that unfortunately leaves a sour taste on the tongue. Mindless, ashamedly over-emotive and ultimately trivial pap.

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