Friday, January 20, 2006


Musings on Munich

By Edward Copeland
First off, I'm not going to address how accurate or inaccurate Steven Spielberg's Munich — I don't know and, unless I have personal knowledge of something that sticks in my craw, I prefer to assess movies as movies, not as factual reporting. Since Spielberg made it, you can assume going in that it's going to be technically well-made and it is. You can also tell by the ads that this is "serious Spielberg," where he sets aside his crowd-pleasing tendencies to offer something more adult. Alas, Munich is less in the league of Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan and more in the realm of Amistad (which I like to refer to as L.A. Law with muttonchops).

First of all, Munich moves at a snail's pace and I think that's partly because Spielberg either doesn't know or is afraid of what the movie will be when it grows up. On the one hand, I think he wants Munich to be a suspense drama, but the idea of making a true revenge epic — especially based on real-life events — makes him nervous. At the end of the day, no matter what he's making, I get the sense that Spielberg wants to be liked.

Then there are aspects of it that seek to deal with the political ramifications of terror and retaliation, but he seems to pull back whenever he gets too close to those waters too.

While Munich is generally well-acted (especially by Ciaran Hinds, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Almaric and, in a brief bit, Lynn Cohen as Golda Meir), the lead falls to Eric Bana and whether its his limitations as an actor or the handcuffs the script puts on him, his character is a cipher.

He's certainly not portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, but in the latter parts of the film, when his conscience is supposed to get to him, he can't really emote that either. It almost seems like a sudden change because the movie needed an ending.

The Munich Olympics were a watershed moment for anyone old enough to remember them — I can remember as a young child having nightmares about men wearing stocking masks appearing on my TV — so the real footage that is incorporated almost attracts more interest than the fiction that surrounds it.

In the end, I ended up feeling as cold about Munich as the film's tone seemed. It didn't hold my attention as suspense, as ruminations on conscience and guilt or certainly as an effort to look at the seemingly intractable problem of Mideast peace.

There is a lot of buzz out there that the Oscar chances for Munich have been diminished by controversy about its truthfulness, but I think in actuality the problem is that it's just not very good. It lacks a coherent point of view or even a narrative trajectory. It just sort of rolls along — and slowly.

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