A charge often directed at Steven Spielberg, a fair one I think, is that if he makes a film that’s not factually-based, it is an exercise in Nerf: all main characters live and no harm comes to them. This wasn’t the case in the past – certainly not in Jaws. But these claims are put on hold when he makes up for those films by crafting a brilliant piece of filmmaking like Munich.
We all know the story – in 1972 eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage by a Palestinian terror group known as Black September. Eventually said athletes were massacred by Black September. Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir decides retaliation is in order and she hires a former bodyguard, Avner (Eric Bana), to assemble a team to execute vengeance in the name of Israel.
To take a side would imply bias and Spielberg knows this. The film treats the job these men are given as something they continually wrestle with, not as a video game joyride. Indeed the first hit they accomplish is full of uncertainty and nervous glares between two of the men as they wonder whether they can do what they’ve been assigned to.
Munich reminds us why film is such a powerful medium, in the proper hands. Munich also serves a larger purpose in relaying the sad truth that terrorism and its victims are a wide and varied network that sometimes reaches across political and religious boundaries. Terrorist organizations have leadership like the head of the Hydra; cut one off, another sprouts in its place. The film also shows the effect of what’s asked of these Israeli assassins – are they any better or are they doing a patriotic job for their country? And at what cost, when it appears that the hunters may have become the hunted?
Eric Bana is masterful in the lead role. As Avner, he projects a strong man who begins to wonder if taking this assignment means a death sentence to his family. Others, including Daniel Craig and Geoffrey Rush, offer great performances as the hot-tempered getaway driver and Avner’s Israeli contact, respectively.
For more than thirty years, Steven Spielberg has been one of, if not the, best-known directors. It is with a film like Munich that one resdiscovers just what he is capable of. The film is a brilliant masterstroke that intelligently and hauntingly relays the sad tale of one of the darkest chapters in Israel’s history. It cuts no corners and takes chances. Munich is the best film of 2005.