Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Steven Spielberg
“Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.” These are the chilling words spoken by actress Lynn Cohen as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s chilling tale of revenge and its consequences. Beginning with the 1972 Munich Olympic kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, “Munich” details Israel’s retaliation in the aftermath of this event.
Following a group of Mossad agents as they attempt to track down and execute those responsible for planning the Black September operation, “Munich” stars Eric Bana (“Troy”) as Avner, the man hand-picked to lead a team across Europe to hunt the perpetrators. Given nothing but a bottomless bank account and a list of 11 names he’s told are responsible for Munich, Avner assembles a team that includes a trigger man Steve (Daniel Craig), toy-maker turned explosives expert Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), forger Hans, and clean-up man Carl (Ciarán Hinds).
As the team begins to assassinate the men on their list, the toll of revenge on Avner and others begins to take hold. Doubts about their mission swell as the names on their list change or grow, and the seemingly endless cycle of violence is realized as the other side carries out further attacks in response to their hits. This story is dramatic enough but Spielberg manages to humanize the movie further by depicting the personal toll the mission takes on Avner’s life. His wife, who was pregnant before he left, gives birth to his daughter and the time apart from his family begins to erode at his happiness.
Bana turns in his best performance to date in “Munich.” He has quickly vaulted to Hollywood’s A-list with great turns in other single-worded films such as “Hulk” and “Troy,” but his true range as an actor is seen in this film. Working with Tony Kushner’s (“Angels in America”) impassioned and penetrating script, he is able to show dimensions we haven’t seen from him until now. He and Ciarán Hinds, who played Julius Caesar brilliantly in HBO’s “Rome” this fall, deserve Oscar nominations.
It’s obvious that Spielberg improves as a director if his heart is into the material. Much like “Schindler’s List,” his previously best work that dealt with the Holocaust, Spielberg’s Jewish heritage and his love and support for Israel shows in “Munich.” That’s not to say that this movie leans one way or the other in placing blame for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Both sides have their say on this complex issue and to Spielberg’s credit he doesn’t provide any easy answers. It’s obvious he believes in Israel’s right to exist but not at the cost of righteousness, something Golda Mier seems willing to bargain with in this film. Indeed, Spielberg’s portrayal of the Israeli government in this film borders on the sinister.
Ultimately this movie is a plea for peace. With “Munich,” Spielberg has cast an absorbing drama about the cost of retribution. The film comes at a time when our own nation seems to be at a crossroads. “Munich’s” final moments take place in Brooklyn, where Avner has kept his family safe from all sides. In the final shot of the film Spielberg shows us a New York skyline complete with the Twin Towers. It’s an obvious, almost pandering, correlation to the U.S.’s current dilemma, but one that is not easily forgotten or simple to ignore.
Steven Spielberg’s latest historical drama, “Munich,” is being released in two different formats on DVD – a single-disc, widescreen edition and a two-disc special edition – and while fans of the director will surely melt at the sight of the latter (especially since it’s the only one that features any bonus material), it’s the single-disc version that is actually worth picking up. The reasoning behind this falls on the sub par collection of extras appearing on the special edition, with only a few of them (like the cast/crew featurette “The Mission, the Team” and the behind-the-scenes featurette “The On-Set Experience) being of any real interest to the average moviegoer. The complete lack of a Spielberg commentary (save for an optional four-minute introduction) also hurts the set greatly, and unless you plan on dropping a few extra bucks for some slightly better cover art, you’re better off just picking up the barebones release.