Munich – good, but not nearly bad enough.

I just got home after watching Munich. Am trying hard to think of a suitable analogy that will describe my state of mind at the moment. It feels like coming home from an exam you expected would be a nightmare, but which turned out to be merely comme ci, comme ça (said with a Gallic shrug and a shake of the palm, which somehow adds heaps to the sense of ambivalence that phrase so aptly signifies).

First the positives: Munich is good entertainment. For a movie where you figure out what’s going to happen over the next 2 hours in the first 40 or so minutes, it is nevertheless exciting, and frequently caused me to hold my breath and gasp and jump a couple of inches off my seat. The art direction is particularly commendable (who knew the 70s were old enough to feel like a “period”? Wonder what the 00’s will look like 30 years from now…), as is the cinematography. I love spy stories because they’re a good way to go sight-seeing from the comfort of a theater near you. And in Munich, you get to do a lot of that – Jerusalem, Beirut, Athens, Rome, Paris, Munich, New York, and even a teeny bit of Holland are all thrown in for the price of one movie ticket.

The cast is impressive, the action slick, and the violence gruesome. All in all, it delivers most things you’d expect from a political thriller. Thankfully, there aren’t too many cutesy one-liners, so it all feels quite ‘real’, or what I imagine would be real for a bunch of professional assassins. After all, what do I know of international intrigue? For all I know, spies and terrorists could actually lead glamorous Bond-like lives, or it could be something far more boring. At any rate, Munich combines the right doses of sophistication, dry wit, grittiness, and soul-searching to make the post of a super-secret Mossad agent attractive, but to also make you question your willingness to be so readily seduced. As you should.

That brings us to the reasons why I finally didn’t like Munich. There are no surprises – everything in this movie is as it should be. The violence is messy, not stylized to make it appear almost beautiful, as so many action movies are wont to these days. The righteousness that drives the bloodshed is shown to be questionable. Both sides get hurt, innocent lives are lost and the middlemen make a lot of money. The hero, who leads an Israeli assassin team slowly transforms from an unquestioning soldier boy to a paranoid, disillusioned and tortured soul, who’s afraid for the safety of his family and desperately wants to be reassured that his actions meant something. After Mr. Spielberg taught the mass audience to question violence in Saving Private Ryan, we already do. I was sorta hoping for a new lesson in this movie, which it finally didn’t deliver. Even as it piles on the moral ambiguities, Munich somehow ends up as a goody-two-shoes type of movie, very propah in depicting current social attitudes toward terrorism, what we all know we ought to feel – that there are no pure causes, that violence only begets violence, that even cold-blooded killers probably question their actions at some point.

As for the conflicts faced by Mr. Bana’s character, it’s been done already – by Aidan Quinn in The Assignment, a movie about another spy recruited by the government to kill Carlos The Jackal, whose accession to the throne of master terrorist was apparently aided by the characters whose story Munich tells. And Ben Kingsley’s and Donald Sutherland’s characters in The Assignment did a far better job at making you suspect that spies are among the most used people on earth, than do the slick Frenchman (played by Mathieu Amalric with the most delightful sneer), his papa (Michael Lonsdale as a French Don Corleone, only more he’s more politically aware, sophisticated and possibly a better cook) and the Israeli case officer (Geoffrey Rush replaying his ‘Sir Francis Walsingham’ role, but with suitably accented English).

Final verdict: Watch Munich. Expect to be entertained, you will be. While this is no feel-good holiday fare, my complaint is that it doesn’t make you feel too bad, either.

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1 comment so far

  1. Falstaff on

    FWIW, I disagree. I think you’re way too kind to it. I think it’s more than bad enough – actually I think it’s terrible. I actually think it was the most boring film I’ve seen all year, and certainly the most disappointing. I could go on and on about all that was wrong with it, but I’ve already done that, so I’ll just let you read my review.


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