Munich review – a smart moody thriller by Spielberg

by | 1 Aug 2016 | Film Reviews

‘Five men are chosen to eliminate the ones responsible for the Munich Massacre.’

Steven Spielberg is one of the most hardworking, versatile film makers working today. With a catalogue of films that span over forty years, he has probably tackled every genre conceivable.

With the release of his latest film, The BFG an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story, and a film for all the family to enjoy, what better time to remind ourselves that he can also tackle more mature and grown up issues and revisit one of his most serious and adult films, Munich.

Spielberg’s film is set after the real life “Munich Massacre”, in which eleven Israeli athletes were killed during the 1972 Olympics by Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The story follows a fictionalised account of operation: “Wrath of God”, a secret mission where the Israeli government retaliated to the killings by sending out a team of assassins to kill those who had a hand in the massacre. With real life footage spliced in the film and really grounded approach, Spielberg is able to keep a real ambiguity to what is true and what is fiction.

Munich follows many of the troupes of the spy thriller, it takes a far more realistic approach than say other films in that genre like Mission: Impossible or James Bond. Where those films were all about the adventure, action and globetrotting, with a strong emphasis on fun; and where characters rarely felt the emotional toil of what they do.

Munich by contrast, is slow and methodical, and you can see that most of the characters are feeling the strain of the job and the extreme mental pressure their under. For example when the Israeli team come across their first target you can really see the hesitance as their hands shake and they stutter out their words of revenge; James Bond and Ethan Hunt, these people are not.

Not fun in the conventional sense, Munich is a well-crafted film with a lot to enjoy. It is a provocative film which raises all kinds of issues and questions regarding the state of Israel and Palestine, and the morality of revenge. Spielberg is also great at creating and maintaining suspense and tension throughout the film, particularly towards the end where the Israeli assassins find themselves being hunted as well. With some excellently executed action scenes, there is also enough there to occupy even those who are in it purely for the shoot outs.

Although an ensemble cast the film mostly rests on the shoulders of Eric Banner’s Avner Kaufman, the leader of this covert team of killers. He does an amazing job in making this character sympathetic and relatable. As the film progresses he gives a great performance as he slowly portrays a transformation from a family man who’s sure of what he’s doing, to a burnt out, morally exhausted shadow of the person he was, who has no idea if he actually achieved anything or if what he’s been through has made any difference.

By the end of the film he is suffering from post-traumatic stress and is extremely paranoid sure of danger at every turn. It’s a heart-breaking performance and you really feel for him. All the other cast do good work and bring something different to the table; you even have a pre-Bond Daniel Craig (probably getting some practice in).

What’s also important to note is that Spielberg doesn’t glamorise the violence. There’s no John Woo style shoot outs or slow motion. People get killed and all the characters understand the seriousness of what there undertaking, these are all well-developed individuals who you can all empathise with, and they all go through similar transformations with Avner; Spielberg doesn’t take lightly what it means to end a life.

‘Munich is arguably one of Spielberg’s most underrated films.’

It’s an ambitious, thought provoking piece of cinema with no real clear resolution or happy ending. It may be hard to watch at times but Spielberg is great at sucking you right into this dark and murky world that you won’t be able to turn away.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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