TBT: Munich (2005)
And finally we come to the closing ceremonies of the Olympic theme TBT this February. Thank you all for joining in on the fun, and I hope you have enjoyed the spirit of competitive action for the last couple of weeks. Which TBT was your favorite event? Your least? Any surprises? With one entry left to go for today, maybe it’s this one. Despite it not having anything to do with the Winter Olympics, this last installment still touches on the Summer Games, and in a way that no other film has before. Personally, I think I discovered my favorite film of the Olympic TBTs and am very glad I didn’t go with my original choice.
Today’s food for thought: Munich.
Release: My Birthday, 2005
May there never be another like the Games of the XX Olympiad in Munich, Germany.
Really, the nation has never had the best of luck when it comes time for them to play host to this global stage of sports competition, since the 1936 Summer Games took place in Berlin during the height of the Nazi regime. Nearly four decades later and the Olympic flame is yet again doused by the murky waters of political tension when two Israeli competitors are murdered and another nine are taken hostage only to be killed later as well. Instead of being known as the Summer Games in Munich, the far more popular term thrown around when referring to the event sadly has become quite simply ‘the Munich Massacre.’
Steven Spielberg was keen on limiting the focus of the better part of the film’s three hours on the Games themselves, instead opting for an increasingly disturbing and suspenseful journey to find the men responsible for the attacks. A counter-terrorist unit was assembled in an effort to eliminate 11 names still at large (a number that would later increase to roughly 20-30) — needles in an impossibly deep haystack. The covert mission, codenamed Operation Wrath of God, was authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (here portrayed by Lynn Cohen) in order to make a statement that the world would not allow for these acts of terrorism to go unpunished. Vengeful retaliation was the name of the game, and arrest warrants simply would not do.
So a squad of assassins (known as Mossad) led by Avner (Eric Bana) and including sharpshooters Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), and Hans (Hanns Zischler) and bomb-maker/diffuser Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) were tasked with carrying out the highly risky mission, unforeseen challenges and implications lurking around every corner. Perhaps the greatest threat of all that loomed over each and every one of them, though, was the psychological aspect to the activities they would be engaging in over the course of several years. In Spielberg’s masterful recreation of this extraordinary mission, it is Bana’s Avner who suffers this the most. When he finally returns to his wife and newborn daughter, he is overwhelmed with paranoia, traumatized by the things he had seen, and generally unable to separate his personal and professional lives anymore.
This is of course to suggest that the film is broken up into three well-defined phases — the first of which sets the stage for the dramatics forthcoming by bloodily depicting the initial hostage situation in Munich; the second focuses on the Mossad mission itself and the subsequent fall-out and finally the last half hour or so of the film spends its time on the lingering, long-term effects of the Olympic Games on Germany and Israel in equal measure, simultaneously addressing the covert operation’s impacts on its key players. Bana is spectacular in selling the latter.
Grief-stricken by being separated from his family for so long, he is also plagued with horrible nightmares of the terrorist acts and of a much larger-scale vision of what his actions say about his political and religious affiliations. As a German-born Jew, Avner is a complex and morally conflicted lead role who bears the brunt of the film’s emotional component. He may have been the Dr. Banner/The Hulk at one point, but this is a substantially dramatic role that he makes entirely his own. The rest of the supporting characters form quite the entertaining repartee, with Daniel Craig’s Steve often playing the comic relief in a film that’s reticent to take its subject matter lightheartedly.
Though he’d be quick to brush it aside because he is none other than Mr. Steven Spielberg and quite acclimated to receiving praise (and so he should be), much credit still should be bestowed upon this legendary director for balancing the humorous and dramatic aspects throughout. Without touching up what is essentially a horror story with some sense of humor, the tragic and disturbing nature of the contents would be suffocating and difficult to plod through. It’s tough enough as it is.
Munich is, with the obvious exception of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s bloodiest and darkest epic. It also features a level of social and political complexity that might be unmatched by any of his other works. Spielberg is, for lack of a better word, a thoughtful director, evidenced by his unwillingness to draw specific conclusions about the conflict that arose in the midst of these Olympic Games. He paints a horrifying picture of a world gone mad as it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement. He doesn’t afford a great deal of dignity to the assassins trying to avenge the deaths of the Olympic athletes, nor does he much care to judge the opposition, either. He walks a tightrope that had to have been intensely difficult to cross, and while the film did spark controversy, Spielberg ultimately managed to strike a balance between Hollywood drama and real-world drama. Without a doubt that would be a very tough challenge to face, something perhaps any other director might not have been able to handle with such aplomb.
What happened in Munich is, in a word, dismaying. Since the events occurred in 1972 there has been no shortage of terrorist activity across the globe, and there’s been no sign of these disturbances slowing down or lessening in their intensity or frequency. We occupy shared space, something that may sound like a simple concept but is inherently not. This isn’t a game of Sims wherein every action is mostly harmless and bears no consequence. People are animals. This isn’t what the movie tried to tell us, but it is a notion I have not only had for some time, but one that has been cemented by an experience like this one.
Recommendation: Often uncomfortable viewing, Munich‘s existence is also important. Perhaps even essential. Incredibly well-crafted and visually arresting, the scope and depth of the material will most likely appeal to more politically-minded viewers, though it is in no way an elitist film. I encourage anyone who wants to watch a thoroughly engaging film who has yet to see Spielberg’s near-masterpiece to devote some time out of their day to this one. It may even be a new favorite Spielberg film for yours truly. Whatever that may mean to you.
Running Time: 164 mins.
Quoted: “We inhabit a world of intersecting secrecies, living and dying at the places where these secrecies meet. This is what we accept.”