Let me begin by saying I know relatively little about Israel's response to the terrorists of the 1972 Munich Games. So comments about the historic fidelity of Spielberg's retelling can change my read of the film, perhaps substantially. But given the political gravity of this story, I am pretty certain Spielberg has most of his ducks in a row. The last time Spielberg released two movies in the same year, one a special effects extravaganza (Jurassic Park) the other serious cinema (Schindler's List), he dominated the Oscars (I do not think that will happen this year due to the relative weakness of War of the Worlds).
Unlike Schindler's List, which invited questions as to whether the maker of ET and Jaws could capture respectfully the horrors of the Holocaust, Munich is perhaps Spielberg's most controversial film (however, for a filmmaker who rarely engages existing and deeply-rooted social tensions, that is not saying too much). Certainly the subject matter possesses the necessary kindling for very incendiary insights, but the best way to avoid controversy is to avoid taking a stand that could alienate droves of loyal movie-goers: don't blame the Jews, they are reluctant combatants defending their existence; don't blame the Muslims and Palestinians, they just want a home. But then, who is left to blame? (Canada?)Wait a minute, it sounds like the staunch Spielberg apologist is echoing Godardian criticisms of the American auteur? Could this be true? Nope (surprise). In fact, with the exception of Kaminski's signature luminescent camera and the occasional moments of narrative levity, this is perhaps the least-Spielberg Spielberg film. The kinetic editing style, obvious and obtuse camera angles, and highly metaphoric characters hints at New Wave filmmaking.
Spielberg treads the political wars carefully; he humanizes many of the characters (more so the Israeli hitmen) as principled warriors fighting for the elusive concept of home. Despite the more "noble" intentions, Spielberg adopts an ambivalent perspective on the use of violence to achieve such ends. He does not condemn it as much as he suggests its ability to beget more violence. Spielberg escapes possible ethical indeterminacy by indicting both the media and, to a lesser degree, American apathy as culprits to the never-ending cycle of violence (the first fifteen minutes is a very non-Spielbergian but extremely effective indictment of media coverage of terrorism).
Prior to seeing the film, I read a review that criticized Spielberg for lazy storytelling, the product of impatient editing. I do not buy it. Spielberg is a master storyteller (in fact his reliance on narrative devices to articulate a film's argument is often the basis of most erudite criticisms of Spielberg). So, any deviation from careful storytelling, in my mind, must be intentional (always the charitable reader). Every scene that involves some retaliatory strike or heightened violence ends prior to resolution; we never see the escape. The next scene is linked by a jump cut that finds the surviving characters safe. Where that might fail traditional narrative standards, Spielberg is using the editing to create the argument of endless and unresolved violence.
The final shot, predictably, attempts to bring the film "home." It deviates from traditional, feel-good endings that Spielberg too often tacks onto the end of his films, so it succeeds in that regard.
The acting is typically solid (Eric Bana plays a wonderfully tortured son of an Israeli hero; however, I do find it interesting that his inner struggle does not come from killing the terrorist masterminds-although there is some of that-it comes mostly from executing Israeli policy that requires him to make larger familial sacrifices).
Lots more to say. But. we'll save that for the comments.
Good film, Go see.