Review by Josh West
Steven Spielberg directs this stylish if uneven thriller about a group of Israeli counter-terrorist agents who are recruited to track down and execute members of Black September, a Palestinian paramilitary organization responsible for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany.
Avner (Eric Bana) is a Mossad agent who is contacted by the Israeli government to lead the hunt for specific Palestinians believed to be connected to the Black September group. He is to command a team of Mossad specialists, including a hired gun (Daniel Craig), a bomb maker (Mathieu Kassovitz) and a professional cleaner (Ciaran Hinds), who will track down the terrorists and obtain vengeance for the Munich murders. But, as their mission grows more treacherous, the group finds themselves in more and more danger of becoming targets themselves.
"Munich" is easily Spielberg's most political film, full of many underlying ethical themes about terrorism and the nations that perpetrate it. The screenplay by Tony Kushner cuts to the bone of why some nations believe they must commit enormous acts of violence to signify their presence in the world. Fair statements though these may be, the film's inability to convey them clearly becomes its major flaw.
"Munich," like this year's other much-hyped political drama "Syriana," takes off at a lightning pace, throwing characters and locations at you quickly and blindly assuming you'll be able to keep up.
Viewers paying full attention should have no trouble, but casual observers out for an evening diversion at the movies could find themselves drowning in the film's wake. Make no mistake, "Munich" is a film with plenty to say, but its "look, listen and learn" approach demands that you remain attentive.
That said, "Munich" is still a good film, just not a great one. Spielberg and Kushner wisely take the time to invest you in Avner's situation and motivations, including keying you into his family and private life.
But the real character development stops there. We're given precious little background into the other team members, who really need more development if we are to give them our allegiance.
Once the plot really thickens, the supporting characters become almost as important as Avner, and with more definition, Spielberg might have had a strong set of ensemble performances, rather than just a really strong performance from Eric Bana.
And to the film's credit, Bana's portrayal of Avner is quite powerful. The actor does an impressive job of conveying the character's inner struggle between his need to protect himself and his family and his desire for revenge against Black September.
His is easily the best and most central performance of the film, but a few members of the supporting cast manage to standout as well, despite their lack of development.
One particular example is actor Cirian Hinds, who brings both intensity and some needed levity to the film with his fine performance as the team's cleanup specialist. The rest of the supporting players are something of a mixed bag, particularly Daniel Craig, who seems somewhat miscast as the team's second-in-command.
The real star here, though, is Spielberg, and with "Munich" the director is on top of his game. The assassination sequences are raw and stirring and manage to maintain a high level of suspense throughout.
Many of the heavy dialogue scenes are effective too, though not all of them work the way Spielberg seems to want them to. Some of the film's drier and calmer moments are just too slow and hamper the film's pacing. With some tightening on this end, perhaps we could have spent more time with the supporting cast and, thus, been more invested.
While an excellent film from a directorial standpoint, Spielberg's "Munich" unfortunately leaves a bit too much to be desired in the story department to really be considered a great film and will have to settle for marginality instead. --JW
Katie Allison Granju , Online ProducerLast updated: 1/6/2006 1:46:46 PM