Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/26/09

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


What does revenge cost? What does it do to a man to take another man’s life, even if it was justified? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? Perhaps no film has explored these questions recently quite so thoroughly and devastatingly as Steven Spielberg’s 2005 Best Picture nominee Munich. Heather and I saw the movie last weekend with her parents and sister, and I found it difficult to watch – but in a positive sense. This is a film that examines a bloody and nasty conflict, but in its focus shifts attention away from socio-political debate and toward the realities of the individuals most involved. The result is a film that inevitably causes the viewer to look inward, pondering what it would be like in the shoes of these men who sought revenge at the request of their government but at the peril of their souls.

The film follows the events of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists took hostage and eventually killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana) is an Israeli intelligence agent approached by his superiors to lead an off-the-books mission. He and a team of four others will track down and kill 11 men believed to have had a part in planning the Munich massacre. The men move through Europe eliminating their targets, all the while finding that their mission’s external dangers are exceeded by its personal toll.

Since Munich’s story is an intensely personal one, the strength of the five actors who make up the squad is of the utmost importance, and the cast delivers tremendously. Bana gives a terrific performance, especially as the film progresses and his leadership becomes ever weightier. Daniel Craig’s Steve is a great contrast, becoming ever more set in his hatred for their enemies and his determination to carry out vengeance. Ciaran Hinds is very engaging as the mysterious Carl, Mathieu Kassovitz plays the part of the team's conscience as Robert, and Hanns Zischler’s Hans is the weakest of the group, though it’s more due to a shallower character than an inferior performance. The film's best moments come as we watch this group morph from a group of committed idealists to men struggling for their physical and emotional survival. Bana in particular portrays a brutally honest look into the human toll of revenge. As his bloody task is contrasted with his wife and new baby back home, we begin to see the stark effects of his every action. Spielberg came under much scrutiny from both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli debate, and I think that indicates that he did what he set out to do - make a movie that avoids political trappings and explores the much more intimate and human aspect of the war. I give this one a big recommendation, but also with big reservations. This is no popcorn flick, so if you're expecting a light Spielberg action film, this probably isn't for you. Also, this is a very graphic film, with some brutal and tough-to-swallow violence as well as some graphic nudity (though, it isn't particularly sexual in context). If those two factors will be a deal-breaker for you, I'd urge you to stay away. This is definitely much closer to Schindler's List than any of Spielberg's other films. However, if you're in the mood for a film that will make you think about - and feel - the human side of war, this is a great film that's well-deserving of the praise it received at awards season. - **** (out of 4)

Munich is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.

1 comment:

Darius said...

I was conflicted over this movie... if Spielberg was merely discussing the travails of revenge and the personal costs of such a mindset, I liked it. If, on the other hand (which I came away with more of a feeling was his intention), he wanted to morally equate the Munich butchers to the Israeli assassins and make some political statement, then I wasn't a fan of the film. At times (and perhaps I was reading too much into it), Spielberg seemed to not be able to draw a distinct line between the understandable personal anguish felt by Bana's character over his deeds (only a cold-hearted person or a monster wouldn't feel at least some moral compunction in those situations) and the correct actions of the Israeli government to protect their people and fight a war. As the widow of one of the Munich victims said, "with friends like Spielberg, who needs enemies."