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Hail Steven Spielberg and his new masterpiece! So declared Time magazine, which got the first Munich interview and may have had some studio gods to appease.
But with my eyes I saw it: the flick's an Olympic bore. At two-and-a-half unnecessarily stretched hours, it's a thriller that sprawls more than it thrills.
The let down is all the more palpable given the blood-pumping ambush that opens the film. We return to the scene of Black September's crime in flashbacks, but here's where things get bizarre: the character who's flashing back is Avner, though he was never at the Olympic Village to witness his own POV in the first place. Yet, traumatized he is — so much so that his bursts of another's memory will intrude on his lovemaking later in the film.
There's also a problem of "Who is this hero, anyway?" It's unfortunate that Avner is anointed to lead the mission before we're properly introduced. Had Munich only borrowed a reel from Eytan Fox's Walk On Water, where the revenge-seeking Israeli agent gets a real warts-and-all personality, we might not be relegated to the slick surfaces trying to sneak a peek within.
In a stilted exchange with his pregnant wife (Ayelet Zorer), Avner sweats the calling that will come between him and domestic bliss. "What now?" she asks, as if the dialogue were a telegraph, charged by the word. Avner's answer comes in an unheroic odyssey of assassinations, which has him and his entourage picking off Arabs one by one along narrative terrain as monotonous as The War of the Worlds.
In its fervor to explore isms and wrest suspense from a political minefield, the script runs roughshod over character development--something you don't expect of sceenwriters Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump). We may learn ideological lessons, but our ability to care about their messengers is impaired. This is no fault of Bana's, who manages to drip testosterone and vulnerability whether killing, or suffering killer's remorse. (Brad Pitt sure knew what he was doing when he handplucked Australia's nice-Russell-Crowe to play Hector in Troy.) Rounding out Bana's posse are bomb-maker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), wise until unwise Carl (Ciaran Hinds), shrill ideologue Steve (Daniel Craig) and forger extraordinaire Hans (Hanns Zischler). Their male bonding inserts a buddy element to the quest, which may take a page from television, but surely chalks one up for the Jewish team.
Though the Arabs get to have a humanist or two among their ranks, the voice that calls for pushing the Jews into the sea is nowhere countered by a Palestinian advocate of co-existence.
On his way to the fraught, illogical and maddeningly complex Middle East, it seems Hollywood's Spielberg may have lost his North. Certainly he lost control of key supporting actors, many of whom are left to declaim with mechanical remove and hope the stiffness won't spread to their joints.
Anyone who's seen actors Gila Almagor in BeTipul, Mathieu Amalric in Rois et reine or Hiam Abbass in Paradise Now — to name but three of Munich's misdirected talents — knows them to be nuanced and nimble interpreters of human behavior. That they serve to advertise more compelling movies speaks volumes of this one.
Strangely, for all its thumb-twiddling moments, Munich isn't a picture to walk out on. As our invincible agent falls to his own crisis of faith, we're asked to look at received truths anew.
Eye-for-an-eye revenge, Avner discovers, blinds humanity — too high a moral toll for any civilization to cough up. In his case, he pays with his mental clarity, spiritual focus and a vision of belonging. And that we see this happening to him here — that alone makes Munich worth seeing.
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