They say home is where heart is. But if you don’t have a home, or can’t live in your home or don’t show allegiance to your home then it makes the situation difficult or confusing to follow your heart. That issue takes center stage (among many issues) in the political thriller Munich.
Munich follows the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy where 11 Palestinians kidnapped and later killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Following the massacre Israel created an ultra secret assassination squad to hunt down each of the Palestinians suspected in the massacre.
The film which follows Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) and his squad not only deals with the cat and mouse surveillance, planning and tactics but also deals with the pressure, doubt and personal toll that takes they incur.
Normally one mention of director Steven Spielberg (together with Angels in America writer Tony Kushner, who shares the writing credit with previous writer Eric Roth) would offer images of tight action scenes, and roller coaster rides through various international cities but then let the audience off easy with some Disney-esque ending so common with Spielberg films. But here he sticks his hooks in the film and except for a few cheesy love scenes (where Avner replays in his head the tragic hostage finale) and a questionable assassination scene the film slices like a deep, rich layer cake.
The initial layers display the creation of the unit. It almost comes together like a Mission Impossible task force with the State of Israel disavowing any knowledge of their actions, paying them through Swiss bank accounts and the like. The group, although knowledgeable, hardly assemble like a well oiled machine. Parts squeak, things break. It’s an imperfect world in the spy, revenge, and killing business.
The film moves effortlessly though various countries as they group picks off targets one by one with little to more extreme effort with mixed results. The more into the mission they delve the more inner conflict arises as some in the group question themselves to be better than all the other killers or even being good Jews.
Based on actual events, Spielberg and Kushner create some stirring tension. In fact, it’s been a while since Spielberg has taken his audience on such a thought provoking, explosive yet conflict filled journey. The film comes loaded not just with guns and explosive devices (and some startlingly appropriate graphic deaths) but also with a potpourri of intriguing counterspies, political and religious comrades as well as colorful informants. Michael Lonsdale takes a delish turn as the papa of a small information for hire group who like Avner enjoys his time in the kitchen.
The films lower layers add zesty flavors. As the mission unfolds, the group struggles more with the pressure of what they are trying to accomplish and why. They deal with their own issues and their issues of religion and home. It’s not enough that they battle the “bad guys” but they soon realize that their own beliefs to be part of this battle.
The icing may just be the fact that Spielberg didn’t end the film with Avner walking back to his wife and newborn baby but continued the film enough to demonstrate the paranoia and uncertainty that Bana still faces about his life, his family and his home.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.