Thursday, March 22, 2007

Now Playing: Munich

Steven Spielberg frustrates me sometimes. Last year was a banner year for him with the crowd pleaser War of the Worlds and the deeper, and more emotional Munich. I hated the first, and have just seen and loved the second. The last time he did a double feature in one year was back in 1993 with Jurassic Park and Schindler's List and I love it when he cranks things out. When he's working on a harsh deadline, he seems to rise to the challenge and he does magnificent work with Munich.

Based on the true events at the 1972 Munich Olympics in which several Palestinian terrorists working for an organization called Black September infiltrated Olympic Village and seized the Israeli dorms, capturing most of the athletes. The ensuing stand-off and confrontation when the terrorists tried to flee at the Munich Airport resulted in a bloodbath as all of the athletes and terrorists were killed. The Arab world at the time declared it a great victory.

Israel declared war, but not overtly. Instead, they sent a team of handpicked men after the targeted planners of Munich and the film chronicles their hunt.

This is brutal, stark work harkening back to the great films of the 1970s. Spielberg brilliantly recreates the world as it was right down to the innocence of the time. Munich came on the heels of a number of world changing events, and this was one of the first major attacks where terrorists were given a face and a name to everyone. The men on the hunt, though, had very specific names and faces to track down and they were relentless in their pursuit. But eventually word made it to the other side and the men found themselves as much the prey as they were the hunter.

Eric Bana make have taken a lot of guff for the overblown disaster that was Hulk but he's a sharp actor with very keen instincts. He plays the team leader, a devoted young man with a family who risks everything for the sake of national vengence. Guiding him down this slippery slope is the brilliant Geoffrey Rush who is merciless in his desire to prune what he views as nothing more than weeds. Anytime Rush shows up you know he's going to bring his A-game which is why I'm so excited about his return in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie because his Barbossa was the best part of the first film next to Johnny Depp.

Daniel Craig continues to impress me by choosing work that completely takes him away from James Bond and I hope that Casino Royale's mammoth success means he has better and better scripts to choose from. He's solid here as the driver and he and Bana have a solid rapport with one another.

The only demerit I'd throw at Munich is a cliched technique that Spielberg obviously knows inside and out and that he, frankly, should have known better than to use here. Even high school kids today know about Munich and what happened. We don't need to flashback to it throughout the film resulting in a B-story where we want to see what happened. The finale at the airport is relentless, brutal and proof of a master film maker at work, but it would have been far more powerful if we didn't keep cutting back to Bana making love to his wife.

Even I wouldn't stoop to that as a metaphor and I'm fairly shameless in exploiting emotions.

But overall I can see why a lot of people praised it. Top to bottom it's excellent work from everyone involved.

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