There is no commentary track on the DVD release of MUNICH. There is, instead, an introduction by Steven Spielberg, which is more a making-of piece than a talking head, though there is that, too. He talks about Vengance by George Jonas, the book on which he based his film, the only credible account of what happened in the aftermath of the Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972. He tells why he felt he needed to make the film, and he points out that the book, in print for 20 years, has never been discredited. He recounts the indisputable facts of what happened.
The point he makes of saying that his film is not an indictment of Israel sounds just a bit defensive. As does his emphasis that it was not his intention to argue for what he calls “non-response” to terrorism. The point, he states, is not to give answers about how to deal with terrorism, state-sponsored or not, but rather, to pose the questions and show the consequences.
That being the goal of MUNICH, it succeeds admirably. It has a vicious, visceral effect on the viewer as it examines in heart-rending detail what it means to take a human life. In particular the toll is takes on Avner (Eric Bana in an exquisite performance), the dedicated, Mossad agent who is chosen by Gold Meir (Lynn Cohen) herself to lead the group of fellow agents (including urbane Ciaran Hinds, zealous Daniel Craig, avuncular Hanns Zischler) who will seek out and kill the 11 people responsible for the massacre.
The script by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth plays the massacre itself out over the course of the narrative, which is described as “based on actual events”. There are many flaws, in its attempts at symbolism, particularly the one it tries to draw between sex and slaughter that is just disturbing. It is brilliant, however, in explicating the enormous divide between the two peoples who inhabit the boundaries of Israel. At the very beginning, as the events of Munich unfold, those two sets are shown glued to their televisions. The Palestinians weep when the news comes, erroneously, that the athletes are safe. The Israelis weep just as hard when the news comes that they are dead. The very starkness of it the truth of that moment is overwhelming.
The film also succeeds in integrating the philosophical considerations of taking action, as well as not taking action. In the context of the film, in the way the characters are drawn, it seems not only right, but natural that after the first successful assassination, that they should discuss the proper way to celebrate, or even if they should celebrate, as well as the myriad other moral implications of what they have done. Are they assassins or soldiers? The film refuses to come down on either side.
MUNICH is enlivened by a supporting cast of eccentrics, all as dedicated as Avner. Geoffrey Rush, in particular, as the receipt-hungry case officer overseeing the operation, and Mathieu Kassovitz as the toymaker turned demolition expert. Everyone in the film is presented as a fully realized human being, full of hope, frailty, and idealism, which makes the actions they carry out even more heartbreaking, no matter which side of the solder or assassin issue you come down on. And MUNICH well worth a second look.
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