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Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth.  Based on the book Vengeance by George Jonas.
Starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds and Geoffrey Rush.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  12/21/05


Wow, wow, wow!

Thanks to a mix of a fantastic globe-trotting plotline, strong performances by its actors, a storyline ripped from real-life events that I knew nothing about and the simple fact that I saw this movie for free, "Munich" was a top-notch viewing experience from our most celebrated American director.

Steven Spielberg gives it to us straight, no chaser, and in "Munich" we see the story behind what happened AFTER the Black September terrorist attacks during the '72 Munich Games.  Apparently, the Israeli government--in retaliation for losing nearly a dozen Israeli Olympians in the stunning violence that occurred during those Games--sent a team of regular citizens to take out those responsible for planning the attacks on their people.  Spielberg, which takes his story from the book Vengeance, by George Jonas, uses the idea that this team of regular Joes (or Joshes, depending on your point of view) was led by a government analyst, a guy named Avner (Eric Bana), and over the course of the next 12 months set out to take down as many of the Palestinian regime members that planned these attacks as they could.  The five-person team is aided by a shady European intel contact named Louis (Mathieu Amalrac) and is funded by the Israeli government, led by Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), but ultimately it falls to Avner to help make the Palestine people aware that no evil deed will go unpunished.

Please note:  this bad boy is violent.  Not kinda violent, either; in New Spielberg fashion (referring to the time period since "Schindler's List" in '93), "Munich" features many, many bodies getting lit up by gunfire, explosions, knives and a few other odds & ends.  One girl gets it with what looks like a blowgun and when she bleeds...oh boy.  This is not a big deal for me, but I know many that don't like much bloodshed in their films; if you are that person, strongly consider skipping this movie, as good as it is.  Because Spielberg tells his story both with the main plot as well as cutting back to the actual events of Munich (he gives us every bodybag right up to the fatal firefight at a Berlin-area airport), you don't go too long between guys getting knocked over by machine gun fire.

If you can get past this, "Munich" is truly great work.  Bana is a consistently great actor; another guy that I can't seem to understand in terms of his lack of breakout stardom, he's now been excellent in every film he's ever done, since "Chopper" in 2000.  Daniel Craig, soon to be James Bond for the next few years, is strong as a member of Avner's team; Rush is great, Ayelet Zorer (as Avner's wife) is great, all of the actors are great.  The absolute throwaway bit actors are great, too...Spielberg can sometimes be so great with actors that you can't understand why he makes movies that are sometimes so middling (like "The Terminal", or his share of the work in "A.I.").  But he's in top form here, making me forget (temporarily) the partial debacle that was "War of the Worlds."

In contrast to the helter skelter nature of "Syriana"--leaving me dazed & confused throughout that thriller--the politics of "Munich" are complex but not over your head.  You get behind both sides of the continuous conflict between the Palestines and the Israelis; you might not take one, but at least you get an initial understanding of where each side is coming from.  This just feels good as an audience member, to be sitting there, enjoying the film as art but also enjoying the film as a conversation piece, seeing what Spielberg is trying to do in forcing both sides of the equation into his film without forcing your hand into seeing it as right or wrong.  I really thought the film was excellent in showing us that the Israelis aren't necessarily right in pursuing a witch hunt to track down the Palestine braintrust responsible for all of this; maybe that's why he's such an übertalent.

"Munich" is stellar viewing, and admittedly my review is wind-aided because I saw this flick for free.  But, this is some of Spielberg's best work, easy, and as a great learning tool I can guarantee you will take something away about the two nations in question.  Solid!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09