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Thread: Steven Spielberg's MUNICH

  1. #16
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    arsaib, I didn't simply "lump it" with The Bourne Identity; I used The Bourne Identity as an example of a pure, and effective actioner -- and not considering that "fluff" but good entertainment, I don't consider it such a put-down to relate it to Munich -- but my point is that Munich mixes genres. It's certainly not purely an actioner. It tries to be both a political and philosophical meditation -- Spielberg himself calls it a "prayer for peace" and I don't discount, in fact I applaud, that -- and an action movie. It is an action movie in a sense that say Caché and Syriana are not; it relentlessly pursues a hit-list mission; action-wise, it is confusing but singleminded. But where it gets into the philosophy and the gemütlich noshes it slows down and muddles the action; the two aims are incompatible and ultimatlely drag things down. Nonetheless I consider this one of the best, if not one of the top, American movies of the year. Wait till you see my Best Lists. Why would I have written about it twice if I didn't consider it important? It's as important in its way as a mainstream movie that brings up issues as Brokeback Mountain.
    Thanks for your clarification.

  2. #17
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    Oscar -- Glad to have some support and ably given...

    As an action film (and it is that, to me), Munich is technically good and it captured my attention quite easily. But I eventually tired of the And Then There Were None plot no matter how varied the settings and the assassination targets.
    I think you grew tired also because of the tedious efforts at presenting self doubt and What a Good Boy Am I dialogues.

    Indeed the false flashbacks are one of the crudest, most jarring elements in the film, surely a sign of confused thinking. That final sex scene is an embarrassment. Indeed the "safe house" meeting is preposterous and so is the adolescent squabbling there over music. Compare Munich to something like The Battle of Algiers and you see how inept it is as a recreation of paramilitary terrorist/counter-terrorist activity. Compare it to something like Rififi and you see how clumsy it is as narrative about an illicit team project with conflicting diverse members. It rings a bit false from the start, but being Spielberg, it is also poweful and attention-getting from the start.

    Indeed the film is weighted toward Israel from the start, from the choice of subject and calling Munich a "massacre." (Most of the kidnapped athletes died not at the hands of the Palestinians but in the melee with Israeli snipers at the airport.) As the hunt precedes we are periodically given lists of new Arab attacks but none of other Israeli ones on Arabs, as if it was one sided. Israel is seen as the only wronged party.

    NOnetheless as I've said to arsaib, I do respect this film and consider it one of the great failures of the year, along with Syriana -- which is more sophisticated and many-faceted but even more confused, or confusing anyway.

    Nonetheless I think in some sense Spielberg sincerely wanted to produce a "prayer for peace" and be balanced and express sympathy to the Palestinians, but in his political naivety he thought a few crumbs tossed to them would be enough and didn't see that every scene was pro-Israeli propaganda.

    I'll grant you that the action element works well at times. And there is much good stuff, if a bit wasted in the overall context. I particularly liked the French interludes, especially the one where Louis brings Avner to meet "Papa" at their big country house. It's rather overblown, but still quite wonderful, and Michel/AKA/Michael Lonsdale is a marvellous actor who adds tone to the proceedings, as does the always interesting (but here somewhat simplified, with his neutral English and ever-present trademark dog) Amalric. Those interludes were a relief from the tendentiousness and the tension and earnestness which I welcomed and very much enjoyed, but there were not enough of them.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-10-2006 at 10:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    Political Action Film?

    Chris Knipp appears to describe Munich as a muddled action and political movie because the two genres don't go together well.

    When I saw the movie I really avoided putting this movie into such categories and instead went with the experience of a historically based film that provided a reasonably credible slice of a real event then went into a fictional, but entertainingly compelling psychological drama with action elements. In the same vein as classics such as The Ipcress File (1965) and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965) and very unlike the more action-involved The Three Days of Condor (1975) but more like All The President's Men (1976), Munich isn't so much about explosions and actions themselves but the psychological and dramatic thrills of tension and waiting, maneuvers, and about the humanity and conflict between these men. From this perspective, I found this movie one of the best of the year (particularly since I'm stuck with mostly American films to review).

    If one for some reason thought of this movie as an action movie and rated it as such as well as a political commentary, it's not hard to see how someone like Chris Knipp might be confused about this movie and its muddling through the action.

  4. #19
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    I don't think I'm confused about this movie. The movie is confused though. I think you are too. You can't just pass it off as "a historically based film that provided a reasonably credible slice of a real event." The material is entirely too political and controversial for that kind of light dismissal, tabuno. "Reasonably credible slice" won't do.

  5. #20
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    Classic Spielberg

    Admit it Spielberg is an entertainer first and foremost. Surely one of the most technically impressive filmmakers (perhaps only behind Scorsese), he specializes in entertainment. Films were the good guys win, bad guys lose, and all throughout it's done with a certain level of style. Spielberg's greatest fault has always been to play to the common denominator. He doesn't seem to have much if any respect for the average filmgoers intelligence, and has never made films for anything but the masses. His films are consistently full of really hokey touches (the War of the Worlds reunion, the "Give us our free" speech in Amistad, Elliot getting sick with ET) but we come to expect them, and although I for one certainly cringe you have to realize who you're dealing with.

    Munich is entertainment. Due to it's release date it is going to be associated with the art house market, just as Amistad another history lesson for people who never read a history book was. American history might be a particular strong point of mine, but the events of the Munich games aren't. I chose not to refer to it as a massacre, because well the whole mess is a little too muddled.

    Eric Bana, who's been kicking around Hollywood's B-list for a few years now is perfect for Spielberg. A face that is familiar but not a huge movie star. After Cruise in War of the Worlds, I suppose Spielberg was a little tired of the big A list movie stars. He wants his assassin to be just that, and Bana is like his character, just enough under the radar to pull off this role. Nothing in any of Bana's previous efforts though hints at his ability as an actor, and for this reason I may have to credit Spielberg the director. Bana gives a fantastic performance here, arguably the best male performance of the year, although I did find the year a little weak for actors. He changes throughout, from self confident to self doubting, from patriotic to exiled, Bana makes his work masterful.

    Is the film perfect? Of course not, few if any films are (Well maybe Kane). It is slightly flawed but not to any extreme extent. I'll admit I found the second sex scene to be very poorly done, and as someone here has pointed out, embarassing. I chose not to view the film as anything close to a political picture, because Spielberg never has been a political filmmaker and this film's politics are too simple to make it intriguing. This is a man whose previous political statements were nothing more than caricatures of nazis with pitchforks and horns. The enemy here is a little less drastically evil, and Spielberg makes at least a few attempts to show their side of it. I can applaud him for his first touch of humanism.

    The film is great however, much like I found Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can great. It is good filmmaking. It could be better no doubt, and the 164 minute run time pushes it, but I found the film to be quite capitivating. There is a command of suspense, and a general interest in the characters. I also compared this film to Syriana, and I find this infinitely better. Syriana tries to let the audience figure it out, when really it's an overambitious director saying he doesn't know what the hell he's doing maybe you can tell him. Spielberg knows what he's doing and is very calculating, therefore I not only knew all the characters in the film, but what they were doing, and a lot about them. Syriana perhaps could have benefited from Munich's longer running time, perhaps that film wouldn't have been so uncaptivating and pointless.

    Like Syriana though Munich is a film that is going to have Hollywood patting itself on the back for "daring" to make. It is really pointless for this self congratulatory nonsense, because let's face it the US hates Arabs, and these films are little more than officially sanctioned racist pictures. Look at history and check some of the WWII films and how they show the Japanese. It was socially acceptable then to hate them, and it's socially acceptable here to hate Arabs, even though they'll never admit it. Perhaps that final shot of the Twin Towers is the filmmakers way of saying "Fuck you camel jockies". In the process saying that it's not the Jews fault. I'd rather not read too much into it, but let me know if I'm completely high and insane for thinking the way I do about this countries attitude towards Arabs.

    Grade A

  6. #21
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    Interesting comments up to a point, good to remind us Spielberg is primarily a popular entertainier. I think his public remarks clearly indicate his intentions go beyond that here, as does the use of Tony Kushner, who is certainly not just an entertainer, to do the writing, as well as the inclusion of subtle actors like Matthieu Amalric and Michael Lonsdale. Good point about Bana and his choice, but that this is the best performance of the year is a stretch, but then I could not possibly give an unqualified "A." I wish you had responded to more of my comments than just the fact that the second sex scene is embarrassing.

    You're right about Syriana though you're harder on it than I would be, and the comparison makes some sense, I've said before why I don't think Munich is very suspensevul, and Oscar I think concurred on that.

  7. #22
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    I'll admit there was more potential for suspense here, but it didn't bother me. My basic assumption with my rather flattering rating is that the good outweighs the bad with this film. As far as the mixed genre, I kind of avoided the political aspects of it, and that might be somewhat important to my liking it.

  8. #23
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    I kind of avoided the political aspects of it, and that might be somewhat important to my liking it.
    Indeed it would be and I appreciate your candor. But that I found quite impossible to do.

  9. #24
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    But about the movie ...

    MUNICH
    Written by Tony Kushner & Eric Roth
    Directed by Steven Spielberg


    It is a gray day. Avner (Eric Bana) meets with his former employer from the Israeli government in a park in Brooklyn, New York. He has nearly lost his mind to paranoia, always wondering when someone will end the hunt and finally find him. During his unofficial employment with the Mossad, Avner headed a team of five men whose mission was to track down the members of Palestinian terrorist group, Black September. This group was behind the tragedy at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany, where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered after being held hostage. It has become abundantly clear that he can and likely will suffer the same fate as the men on his hit list and he needs reassurance that he can at the very least trust the people of his homeland, the people that trusted this mission to him in the first place. His former liaison, Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), dismisses his concerns, allowing Avner a moment to breathe. Ephraim then declines Avner’s invitation to break bread and two large buildings in the background of the frame catch your eye while Avner stands still and puzzled. These two buildings are the twin towers destroyed on September 11, 2001 in what has been described as one of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever to take place on American soil. This moment, I apologize, comes at the very end of the film and stretches the issue of justification past the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, finding Spielberg asking his audience if there is ever any true resolution to any ongoing violent conflict between nations or between peoples.

    Spielberg’s film interpretation is not specifically about the Munich killings but more so about what came afterwards, while always paying mind to what came before and led up to the event. In telling this story, he is walking a fine line trying not to offend while remaining authentic. I don’t doubt Spielberg’s genuine interest in remaining objective here. In fact, it was imperative he do so to successfully force his audience to question the usage of violence as a means to resolve conflict. Had he shown the Jewish retaliators as nothing more than a beaten people unquestionably right in their quest for revenge, than he would have created nothing more than a sympathy inducing manipulation. Of course there is something of a sympathetic element for these assassins who see themselves as soldiers but that’s inevitable as their people were undeniably wronged in Munich at the hands of murderers. Only these five men are not your typical soldiers. They’re toy-makers, antiques dealers, expecting fathers. They are regular men with one common dedication among them, Israel. Their convictions can only take them so far as when it comes time to actually pull the trigger or detonate the bomb, the awareness that they are about to take someone’s life becomes a painful curse they hadn’t realized their beliefs might not be able to carry them through. The lack of experience as well as the naïve approach become visible as Avner corners the first name on the list. He fumbles as he pulls his gun from his pants and almost lowers it while the condemned begs for his life. Is this really going to help change the future for the better? No. However, the alternative is to take the Munich injustice sitting down.

    MUNICH is not just a moral conflict story about the nature of right and wrong despite watching heroes become detached from the brutality of their lives. It is also an energetic thriller. Spielberg has delivered so many solid, enjoyable popcorn movies in the past and here he brings his knowledge and applies it to the tragic underbelly of humanity. The unofficial Mossad kill team are natural underdogs because of their small, humble lives and not because they’re Jewish. They travel from one European city to the next, gathering information on the locations of the names on their list and carrying out their duty to kill these men. Spielberg brings so much humanity to these hunts. Innocent bystanders’ lives are often threatened or ended and even the men they are meant to kill have families and fragility. The heroes also make small, potentially disastrous errors on their missions. This all leads to the paranoia and confusion over whether they’re making these mistakes or are outsiders setting them up to make them. In some, the paranoia leads to guilt while in others, the guilt leads to insanity. And as if the viewer weren’t in enough despair already, Spielberg doesn’t show the Munich massacre at the beginning of the film to charge the audience behind the Israelis. Instead he reveals the developing details at different intervals throughout the film to remind the viewer how this particular mission began. And as we are wrapped up in the intrigue and morality of this mission, these violent flashbacks serve also as reminders to the team of a reality they had long left behind out of necessity.

    Of course the Israel/Palestine conflict did not begin with the Munich Olympics killings. And Spielberg does not tell the story of the mindset behind the men who carried out that mission. If he did though, I would imagine there would be just as much torment in the minds of those killers as the killers who are this film’s heroes. MUNICH does not pass judgment on nations but on mankind, asking us to find the better way. As the Israel/Palestine conflict is not over, nor the numerous other needlessly violent world conflicts, and though MUNICH takes a rather violent approach to advocate peace, MUNICH still makes a powerful and intelligent argument for immediate change.
    I have no idea what I'm doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.
    - Woody Allen

  10. #25
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    That looks like a pretty balanced view. I'm glad so many people are contributing reviews on the site now.

  11. #26
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    I'm glad you didn't rip me apart ... you always seem to be getting into heated discussions with people. All good considering it simply means you have a well formed aopinion. I read your review and your thoughts. I could see your perspective about bias on Spielberg's part and your general incapability to seperate politcs from filmmaking. The only part of your review that caught me entirely off guard was your suggestion that the inclusion of the twin towers insinuated a continued Arab blame for most world atrocities. As you can tell from my opening paragraph I have a different perspective and I felt that this was the only part where your bias may have influenced you to expect conspiracy.
    I have no idea what I'm doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.
    - Woody Allen

  12. #27
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    I don't generally find it impossible to separate film from politics, but I do in the case of Munich. And I didn't say that the Twin Towers synmbolized continued Arab involvment, because Arabs clearly were involved, al qa'ida was responsible for 9/11. I said that shot in the movie implied Palestinians were involved but they were not; Saudis and Egyptians were. Spielbertg, the master popular filmmaker, is out of his depth with politics.

  13. #28
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    Perhaps I mispoke about the Arab involvement. I meant to say I did not think Spielberg was condemning or suggesting there was Palestinian involvement it 9/11. I believe he was suggesting that there are similarities between the American/Arab conflict and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict ... in the sense that they are both stuck in a neverending cycle of violence. I think he was suggesting there are many world conflicts that need to reevaluate their methods to solving their conflicts. I need another word for conflict!
    I have no idea what I'm doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.
    - Woody Allen

  14. #29
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    From Jonathan Rosenbaum's year's end list

    This is part of Rosenbaum's runners-up list and comments, his slight disappointments still worth mentioning toward the end of his Best-of-2005 list:
    Steven Spielberg may have learned to think beyond Zionist reflexes, but Munich, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, is still supposed to make us feel good about the slaughter of Arabs, though we're now also supposed to feel bad about feeling good.
    That's as neatly as I've seen it summed it up anywhere.

  15. #30
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    Tony Kushner on MUNICH


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