The controversy around Munich has been apparent from its announcement, and the unusual move by Steven Spielberg to not talk about it or pamper to the Press has raised expectation and the very controversy he has sought to avoid. Then we began to hear some negative comments about it, that critics just didn't like it, and that the movie was biased towards or against one viewpoint. So as usual I approached this movie with an open mind, and my sturdy Scottish viewpoint.
First though, I have to thank Jane and Jade. The Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema were good enough to let me watch Munich in one of their excellent screens. A huge screen with one of the better sound systems in Edinburgh cinemas, and let's not even touch on my hotdog fetish that has proven they make my favourite cinema hotdogs! Anyway, after those needed thanks, back to the review.
The first thing to say is that this movie firmly belongs on the Schindler's List side of Spielbergs work and nowhere near the E.T. side. I'm sure you have guessed by now that it is a serious political drama, but by this I mean it is hard, harrowing and at times quite a brutal movie. The journey will bring you downwards, not upwards to a nice fluffy conclusion, and not even leave you with much hope. Its showing in the clear light of day how messed up, manipulative, blinded and cold human beings can be. Be warned, it's a tough movie and not an easy afternoon viewing.
One of the amazing things that Spielberg manages to attain in many of his movies is the level of authenticity. Nowhere is this more apparent in this movie with the style of filming, costume and the writing. Blending real footage with reconstructions which look as genuine as actual news footage, keeping costumes as in the period but without resorting to 70's cheese, using actual camera equipment and styles that represent those used at the time, all combine to give a harsh but very real look and feel to the movie.
That is one of the big positives of the film. It's extremely realistic and with that comes the tough and often brutal representations of events from history and the book the movie is based on. Nothing is sugar coated here for Hollywood audiences, and no better places is this shown than with the scenes of murder. From explosions to shootings, they are all portrayed openly and as they would be in real life. Fraught with tension, understated, and meeting death face on. If you are looking for an easy ride in this film, or some shock entertainment, then you are sorely mistaken.
I felt that this was quite surprising for Spielberg, even though he has tackled tough subjects in the past, this seems to push the representation of the darker side of reality even more. At times viewing the movie becomes almost uncomfortable to watch, but you're drawn to it like watching a reality show, or news footage.
Despite the subject matter there are still a few moments of traditional Spielberg creeping in. There's nothing that harms the movie, but they do illicit a groan and hurt the odd scene for me. One such moment is the where the Isreali and Palestinian argue over a radio station, and what brings them together is the compromise over a US station playing American music.
This probably meant nothing when filming it, and the track was chosen because it was universally know and recognisable, and I really do hate looking for connections in other peoples work when there need not be. Yet it does certainly feel as if there is something being made of this moment, but it's twee and seemingly contrived. Thankfully, there are few moments like this, and you are returned to reality with a bang.
Talking of reading into the movie, I have to say that I feel no bias in this film at all. Spielberg shows that all sides have their level of bloody mindedness and futility from Isreali to Palestinian, even the CIA and the KGB are shown as lost in their own types of hatred, self deception and self fulfilling agendas.
The acting is of the highest quality from all of the leads. Eric Bana redeems his pitiful Hulk performance, and Daniel Craig shows us what a fine actor he is although definitely not a master of accents - this performance bodes well for Bond. Ciarán Hinds provides another excellent performance which at times is quite chilling, and Geoffrey Rush delivers a strong range of emotions in his role.
All these actors give top notch performances being strong, striking and intense. Craig, to some degree, but mainly Bana give the most emotionally charged and altogether confused performances which seem very human and identifiable, even if you can't identify with the situation you can connect with the pain in these characters. The moment where Bana calls his wife and talks to his child is unbelievable emotional and so well played. Bana's slow change during the latter stages of the movie is particularly worth mentioning, his characters slow descent is a very good performance.
Hinds though, shouldn't be crowded out by these other actors though. He brings perhaps the most grounded and real performance, and the moment of recognition of this actor when he first appeared onscreen was a joy. I've seen him before and was struck by his performance, and this hits home again in Munich. His connection with Avner seems heartfelt, and his through the movie I was captivated by his character.
The movie does a great job of highlighting the futility of the ongoing and escalating acts of revenge, and how these slowly eat away at those involved, destroying who they once were. I say that thinking of all sides involved through the movie and not looking to either Isreali or Palestinian alone.
I wasn't entirely sure that everyone was accurately shown though. My understanding of the final events of the actual hostage taking in Munich does lay some blame on the handling of the attack on the terrorists. By the account I have seen, snipers were improperly placed and shot into each other, communication was poor, from my recollection it's fair to say the anti-terrorist operation was badly handled. Yet there is no hint of this anywhere, and if I were to point any finger at this movie suggesting it was showing something or some group in an improper or inaccurate light it would be that very operation. It does not appear in the movie and indeed it portrays them as innocent victims.
However, this would have surely detracted from the belief of blame in the movie, and after all as Spielberg says, this is not a documentary it's a movie based on real events.
As I've said, this movie is tough, harsh and very realistic, resulting in a sometimes brutal portrayal of events. It's not easy watching by any means, but it is a very excellent and moving film.