Munich review by The Grim Ringler


History is a funny thing; it isn’t just that the victors write the history books but that after a while, certain events lose their immediacy and impact as the years pass and are eventually relegated to textbooks where they may die silent deaths. The great things about movies are that events like the Olympic hostage crisis and eventual tragedy in Munich in ’72 can be remembered and brought back to us so we don’t forget them so easily yet, a movie isn’t always the best place to start for the truth. Movies aren’t made to teach us history, they are made to tell us stories, and as such, this is a hell of a story, but whether or not this is true, well, it’s for books, teachers, and talking heads to say, not me.

Munich begins with the 1972 Olympics where eleven Israeli athletes and trainers were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September in the hopes of bringing the attention of the world to the struggle for a Palestinian state. When the hostage crisis ends in the worst of ways the Israeli government decides it’s time to fight back and to send the world a message that the Jews will not be targets any longer. A married man on the verge of fatherhood is pulled away from his job in an elite police arm and is given a devil’s bargain – will you leave family, country, and safety to pursue the men that perpetrated this horror on Israel? He will leave his career, his pension, and his security behind and will be essentially dead to the government until the mission is completed. He will be paid, yes, but only after the mission is complete. This mission consists of eleven names and eleven lives that must be taken by this man and a team of four that shall be assembled for him. The man, the son of a hero, feels compelled to take the mission as this is not simply revenge but is a warning to the world that such crimes will not go unpunished. The man, a simple policeman on the verge of a family, takes this mission, and in many ways sells his soul to his nation. What he and the men chosen to be his team, all of them men with businesses and lives but who serve Israel as it asks and all of them bound to become friends, is that the path of vengeance is one wrought with peril and terror, and one upon which it is easy to lose one’s mind. Things begin easy enough, the men responsible for the terrorist strike not taking care to hide from the world, but as each body falls the stakes rise higher, the danger grows, and the risks increase tenfold. For these five men though, the real monster is not stalking them from the shadows, but from within, as they slowly realize what this mission is making them into.

The unfortunate thing about Munich is that it will be seen by far too many as a reflection on the truth of what really happened, and I can see that. When you present a factual event – the Munich massacre – but then surround it by hyperbole it’s hard to know where the truth ends and the story begins, but never once does Spielberg present this as utter fact. The film states clearly as it begins that this was ‘inspired by real events’. What I would hope is that this film would spark resurgence in the discussion of this event and how it relates to the world today, and perhaps shed new light on what may have happened. More than that though I’d like us to look long and hard at the notion of revenge presented, a notion that stands today, that revenge can eventually lead to peace. Perhaps it can, but perhaps it cannot, and this is not a question the film dares to answer, but asks of us quite clearly.

Eric Bana is superb in the lead role and truly shines here. I have known of him since Chopper and knew then he was a talent but hopefully this film and an Oscar nod will show the world what many of us already knew. This is filmed in a similarly gritty style as Saving Private Ryan but doesn’t have that film’s horror, where moments of peace would be shattered with death and loss. In Munich there is never a sense of peace, never a sense of safety or rest. These men have walked into Hell and shall not return until they are allowed to return, if at all. The brilliance in the filmmaking is that we never even quite see what happens to the hostages, though we are told of their fate, until the end of the film. Just like the men in the film we are asked to believe what happened before we are shown it because that’s how these thing work. You do what you are asked and are told what you need. Another great point is that Spielberg makes it a point not to show anyone as a pure monster. The terrorists are family men, men with hobbies, men who were like anyone else save for their blind love of an ideal. The men sent to hunt them are the same. There is even an assassin that looks like anything but one, and who doesn’t seem necessarily better for their trade, but who is in it nonetheless. This is not a world of black and white but of degrees of gray where no one is innocent and truth is in the eye of the beholder.

This is a departure in some ways for Spielberg in that there is fairly graphic sex and some very graphic violence in it, and I applaud him for both. He is portraying a world that is as close to reality as he can get and as such you can’t always close the blinds. Sex in the film is as much about healing as it is about passion just as violence is as much about revenge as it is about duty. These men do what they have to because they believe in it, yes, but when their belief begins to waver they do it then out of a sense that it is what they must do to get home. There are tremendous performances throughout the film and it’s a testament to the quality of the production that you believe each actor is their character. You believe in this film, and in your belief you find horror.

This will never make a lot of money for Spielberg but this is easily one of his greatest films. In the top three, if not top two. It is not as emotionally resonant as Private Ryan but it’s a better film. The great thing about this filmmaker is that he’s learned how to balance his desire to make big, popular ‘blockbusters’ but also has found a way to tell these harder, darker stories that need to be told. I would never say that this is the truth, but there is truth in this film, and for that reason alone it earns a viewing. A tremendous work of art and film.

9 out of 10 Jackasses
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