A review of “Munich” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for extreme violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

 

 

          Amidst furious speculation and a spectacular lack of hype Steven Spielberg has slipped in a melodramatic yet accessible drama that’s perfectly in keeping with the politically turbulent times.

          The 1972 Olympics were billed as the “serene Olympics”, a chance to set social differences aside and wallow in the spirit and goodwill of international camaraderie and friendship.

          That cooperation did not extend to a group of Palestinian militants who took Israeli athletes hostage in return for the release of two hundred-plus Palestinians jailed in Israel.

          Shortly after a botched rescue attempt and stunning loss of lives a secret squad of Israeli Mossad agents was assigned to assassinate those Palestinians believed to have masterminded what ultimately became a bloody massacre.

          Avner (Eric Bana) is the field operative selected to head up the risky operation in this “inspired by real events” melodrama. A neat, durable man and son of a war hero, Avner commands an inexperienced team of bomb experts, document forgers and professional gadabouts with an investment in revenge.

          The mission is a bitter pill of spite fraught from the get-go with nasty snafus and near misses. As the team methodically annihilates the men who destroyed spirit, families and national pride the plan’s frayed edges dangle dangerously close to ruin.

          Avner is particularly susceptible to the emotional underbelly of his work, his fierce Israeli loyalty jockeying with the horror of compassionless killing and the guilt of leaving wife and child behind to achieve a vindictive goal.

          There’s no doubt that Spielberg knows his way around a story but the man seems perpetually incapable of passing up the figurative exclamation points that punctuate so much of his work. Less is more Mr. Director; the dramatic subtext concentrated enough to carry the narrative to the finish line with substantial finesse.

          Bana is solid as the conflicted Israeli soldier for whom God and country is paramount. As lead player his Avner is most notably victim to Spielberg’s flagrant attack of conscience and climactic shenanigans that pair unsettlingly gruesome images with an unseemly sexual act. Somehow he carries it off with reasonable aplomb.

Team members Ciarin Hinds, Hanns Zischler, Mathieu Kassovitz and Daniel Craig give authority to the concept of a mutual objective with passionate undertones though their characters are woefully underdeveloped. Lensing is first-rate and scripting a mixed bag of profundity and cliché.   

Swinging wildly between ruminative and manipulative “Munich” still manages to create the artistic edge of compelling cinema.