Sunday, December 25, 2005


How It Rates: ****
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Marie-Josee Croze
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Violence, Nudity (both male & female), Strong Brief Sex, Language

"You are going to kill them, one by one."

The assignment is deceptively simple: hunt down 11 Palestinian terrorists connected to the 1972 Munich massacre. Israeli Mossad agent Avner (Bana) accepts it for love of country and duty. And yet he finds the more he kills, the more others get killed... and others require killing.

Munich is a microcosm of the cycle of violence enveloping Israelis and Palestinians. It raises many questions from both the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives and forces you to think about them. But Steven Spielberg's newest film is not out to preach. The film will let you draw your own conclusions as you're drawn into Avner's world of revenge killings, collateral damage, suspicious loyalties, and love intertwined with hate. It will also remind you Spielberg is one of film's master storytellers.

The film opens with the massacre itself, told largely through the incredible ABC broadcasts of Jim McKay and the late, great Peter Jennings (who snuck into the Olympic village to get a better view). We even see the erroneous first reports of the hostages surviving. Then comes McKay's heartbreaking words: "They're all gone." Prime Minister Golda Mier makes the secret decision to go after the leaders of Black September, the Palestinian organization who carried out the killings. The scene where she orders the hits is grippingly solemn as she tries to rationalize shedding more blood.

Avner is recruited to head a team of four, including a bombmaker, officially operating off the books. They soon find an informant who leads them to the men they're after. Each hit grows more complicated and dangerous as the assassins devise new ways to rig bombs. And there's also the expense. Killing terrorists ain't cheap. A shadowy bookkeeper scolds, "I want receipts!" Avner must also deal with questions about the informant's organization, a group that doesn't seem to have loyalty to anyone except themselves and the bottom line: "You pay promptly and well."

Tony Kushner co-wrote the script, based upon true events recounted in the book Vengeance by George Jonas. The book, though disputed by many, was also the basis of the HBO Movie Sword Of Gideon. Spielberg's film goes out of its way to avoid propagandizing the Israel-Palestinian conflict. A few scenes feature characters talking about the conflict, but in a way born of the plot and not stapled onto the script for some political purpose.

Munich seems the odd film to open two days before Christmas, the time when we all wish for peace on earth and good will to all. But in its own violent way, this film wishes for it too, demonstrating by example the escalating danger of revenge killing and how nobody benefits -- not the victims, not the killers, not their countries, not their religions. Nobody.

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