Steven Spielberg's new political thriller bristles with 9/11 overtones, but doesn't stimulate the mind and heart in a pulse-quickening way. The American-Jewish master filmmaker thoughtfully again looks at history this time that delves into the Israeli/Palestinian divide.
Munich is a fictionalized dramatization of the secret Israeli squad out to terminate 11 Palestinians purported to have carried out the 1972 massacre at the Munich Olympics. It's about the emotional toll of this vengeance on the squad and their leader, a man named Avner.
This plaintive picture from the maker of Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List works hard to find a moral, compassionate compass. The screenplay by Tony Kushner (playwright of "Angels in America") and Eric Roth has moments of brillance, but the cumulative effect doesn't have the payoff that one hopes for. Not so unlike the anti-climactic nature of Spielberg's recent f/x picture that has contemporary resonance, War of the Worlds.
Eric Bana's Avner and his cohorts are guided by a no-nonsense Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) and a fierce, lone contact (Geoffrey Rush).
Under Avner, whose family is moved to Brooklyn, there are characters played by the likes of the new 007, Daniel Craig, in charges of guns. There is a master forger played by Hanns Zischler, as well as Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie) in charge of the explosives, and Ciarin Hinds (Phantom of the Opera) the clean-up guy.
Munich hopscotches from Beirut to London and to Paris and Athens as they are given the names of those they have to take out. The assignment takes on the flavor of a Ten Little Indians, and Spielberg doesn't give it the taut gravity of something like Z or The French Connection.
Still, there is much controversy about it as there isn't any attempt to try to solve what has been such a costly conflict for over half a century. Bana works hard to illuminate the personal toll on a man we're given the most information about. While he has haunting nightmares, it still is hard for one to really get into his plight, a journey that works in some graphic flashbacks of Black September. Better is the section involving a shadowy French operative (Michael Lonsdale) and an alluring woman (Marie-Josee Croze) who affects the squad.
Spielberg again works with smooth, somewhat retro, part eclectic, and ominous precision with lenser Janus Kaminski that ultimately captures the hopelessness of it all. John Williams rather subdued score is in marked contrast to what he brought to the current Memoirs of a Geisha, which Spielberg was originally suppose to direct.