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MUNICH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Steven Spielberg
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 164 Minutes
Release Date: May 9, 2006

“All this blood comes back to us.”

Film ****

We’ve now come to appreciate Steven Spielberg in two realms of filmmaking. There’s the huge blockbuster spectacle he’s long been known for, but there’s also several films of pure vital importance that the legendary director will unveil every so often. These stories aren’t the easiest to tell, but they represent some of the strongest and courageous feats of filmmaking to be witnessed. Schindler’s List was such a case for Spielberg, and now Munich illustrates another bold step.

The result was, for me, the absolute best film of 2005. Perhaps the only film I was willing to step ahead of Crash, which until then was my supreme candidate for film of the year. It was quite simply the most provocative film I had seen last year, for sure. In addition, the screenplay ingeniously takes historical events and crafts them into a most absorbing thriller that even hits some paranoid nerves at times. The execution of this balance is nothing short of riveting.

The story opens with a nerve-shredding re-enactment of the horrific incident at the Munich Olympics in 72. 11 Israeli athletes are abducted and then executed by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September. The event is reflected through mesmerizing news footage reported by ABC reporters Jim McKay and Peter Jennings. As news of the massacre is reported, the feeling of utter and unbelievable shock is felt.

The heart of the story involves a secret form of retaliation administered by Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir. She wants the issue of peace to be ignored for the moment, and wants everyone to see that her country is strong. A discreet squad will be formed to hunt down and murder those responsible for the incident at Munich.

Assigned to lead the hit squad is Avner (Eric Bana), a former bodyguard to the Prime Minister. He and the rest of the squad are paid off the books and have no official existence. The other members of the team include Steve (Daniel Craig); the trigger man, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz); a bomb maker, Hans (Hans Zischler); a document forger and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) who removes evidence and delivers false information to the police. Overseeing the operation is a man named Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush).

Avner is immediately given eleven Palestinian names, as is ordered to execute each of the eleven individuals who had a plan in the Munich incident. The most fascinating and gripping portions of the film are the detailed assassination scenes, which thrive with uncompromising tension. One heart-stopper is a scene where a bomb is set to go off via a telephone. And a later scene involving an explosion in a hotel is one that shook me even on a second viewing.

But the hugest accomplishment of Spielberg’s film is its questioning of the very tactics late in the film. What is the purpose of this revenge? What has it achieved? A speech delivered by Robert about the effect the murders are having on his conscience is one of the most absorbing bits of dialogue I’ve heard in any film.

I also applaud Spielberg for not holding back on any of the graphic details of the story. This is quite easily one of the most harshly violent films you will ever see. The sequence involving the Palestinians initial plan of attack at Munich is one of the most brutal scenes to ever be filmed. And the assassinations are very extreme, to say the least. Though I do think this is a film that deserves to be seen by just about anyone, you should be forewarned about the graphic nature.

In the end, I also have to commend Spielberg for having the courage to make such a masterful film. As a Jewish man himself, I’m sure it was no easy task to make a film that pulls no punches in commenting on the policies issued by Israel at the time. But at this time in our lives, there’s no question that the story of Munich needed to be told.

Video ****

Another fantastic looking disc for the year! Spielberg and his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have created yet another mesmerizing looking picture, which is rendered brilliantly in the anamorphic picture. Image quality is stunningly clear and crisp, while colors are nothing short of phenomenal. An amazing job!

Audio ****

Definitely one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard for a Spielberg film. The audio effect in the 5.1 mix is felt to a high degree from beginning to end. From John Williams’s tremendous score to the frequent shootout scenes to the top notch approach to all the set pieces, the sound quality is top of the line and intact throughout the presentation.

Features ***1/2

This 2-Disc Collector’s Edition release is packed with some fascinating extras. Like all Spielberg releases, there’s no commentary track, but the documentaries provided are incredible and well-informative.

Disc One contains the feature film, as well as an Introduction by Spielberg.

Disc Two features six documentaries, each of which is extremely well made and full of intriguing facts. The featured documentaries are “Memories of the Event”, “Portrait of an Era”, “The On-Set Experience”,
”The International Cast”, “Editing, Sound and Music” and “The Mission, the Team”.

Summary:

Munich for me is both the Best Film of 2005 and a truly outstanding accomplishment for Steven Spielberg. Any great film is one that sparks serious debate, and this is a film that’s definitely capable of that. It’s an important cinematic achievement that I recommend to anyone seeking something great and mesmerizing.

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