245 – Munich

Gripping, almost unwatchable drama about the assassinations of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany. Steven Spielberg’s narrative is never complacent, and it never seems to take the easy way out, choosing not to portray either side as completely good or bad.

Told from the viewpoint of Avner (Eric Bana, who looks like a younger Liam Neeson), a man charged by Israel to avenge the deaths of the athletes – no matter what the cost. Avner is given a small group of men with which to carry out his task: Kill all 11 members of the terrorist group Black September.

Although not quite as evocative or provocative (to me) as Spielberg’s earlier Schindler’s List, Munich is compelling nonfiction, crisply moving Avner and his crew from target to target and juxtaposing his thirst for revenge with his thoughts of his family, including his newborn daughter. Spielberg does a good job, too, of compelling the viewer to care about Avner, even while the latter mows down bad men using guns and bombs and other toys.

The movie is unsettling, probably much more so if you remember the events of the 1972 Olympics, which I do not. In fact, considering I am not Jewish and do not remember those events, this movie still unnerved me quite a bit. One of the recurring themes is the old “eye for an eye” mantra that pops up in any revenge tale. Which is preferred – sinking to the level of our enemies, or rising above it? It’s not a question that’s easily answered.

Bana is very good as Avner, as is Geoffrey Rush (whom I almost mistook for James Woods) as Avner’s liaison with Mossad. There’s not a slacker in the bunch, though, no insincere performances, no flat notes.

The movie manages to be eerily compelling considering that the outcome is already known – that it, in fact, is still fresh in the minds of many people. Schindler’s List had the benefit of arriving more than 50 years after the Holocaust, but with the events in Munich so chronologically close, it would have been easy for the story to lose its footing, to perhaps expose itself as propaganda one way or another. But it doesn’t. Although it is pro-Israeli, it is not so to the exclusion of anti-Israeli views; to wit, it is not posited as a clear honorable-revenge story with an easily seen resolution.

Munich: ***1/2

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