Sunday, February 26, 2006


The Munich 1972 Olympic games will forever go down in infamy for the killing of Israeli sportsmen by a terrorist group known as Black September. If you wish to know more about the motives and happenings on that fateful day, including the ineptness of the Germans to manage the entire situation, resulting in the deaths of almost all the perpetrators and the victims, do check out the documentary One Day In September. But not to say that Steven Spielberg's Munich fares any less. My recommendation is to watch the documentary first if you wish to understand more of what happened before, then to follow up with Spielberg's movie for the tale of what happened after when the Mossad went after the mastermind planners. So that you'll not be as irritating as the bimbo sitting behind me asking her equally clueless boyfriend "what happened? Why like that?"

Spielberg's movie is as every bit, Spielberg. It grips you from the beginning and never lets go until the end. For those who did not heed my advice above, don't worry, there's a re-enactment of the terrible event from the point where they entered into the Olympic Village, and various scenes thereafter en route to the airport are edited in between the movie. As mentioned, the movie places focus on the Mossad's attempt to wipe out the terrorist masterminds, and we follow the journey of their appointed leader, Avner, played admirably by Eric Bana, who now probably has cornered roles for the tough yet sensitive guy, like Hector in Troy, or Bruce Banner in Hulk.

And it's this spy-versus-spy game, that this movie excels in. We take the usual peek into government organizations sponsoring clandestine operations, and assembles Avner with a team that looked straight out of Mission: Impossible's IMF. We follow them through the missions so carefully planned ala Ocean's Eleven, aimed at sending signals to the Israeli oppositions that force will be met with force, and violence with violence. Indeed violence begets violence, and what goes around comes around, but at what cost? Information brokers are all set to profit from violence, and in the world of secret agents, so long as the price is right, you get your information, regardless of what you want to do with it.

But the movie also takes a more personal look into the life of Avner, who started off with gusto and with a deep sense of patriotism in their missions, before we slowly see the toil being taken on a family man who can't be with his family, or his home and country, and the degeneration of Avner into paranoia. When you're playing hunter for so long, and you find yourself one day being the prey, that's the effect it'll have on you, of over suspicion on the pretext of playing it safe.

John Williams is at his element here in providing a soundtrack that is intense and fits the movie perfectly. During mission scenes, you'll feel just as tense as the characters planning and executing (pardon the pun) their hits. Avner's team comprises of folks who are not exactly field experts, but their camaraderie on screen is at its finest. I was paying attention to Daniel Craig's highly volatile character Steve, and I'd still think he doesn't have what it takes to become Blond, I mean, Bond. And besides Craig, the only other peculiarly minor letdown I have was the final bed scene between Avner and wife. I thought the editing was done in a very distasteful manner, though I understand what it was trying to get at with the intersplicing of the Munich massacre. Somehow it could have been done better.

It's a controversial film, but only for the controversy surrounding the subject matter, and of Spielberg's roots. It doesn't glorify either side, or try to make a statement which side is right. Two wrongs never made a right, and the movie's narrative plays it that way.

On a normal year, this film would be a strong contender for Best Picture, given all the predictable ingredients required for a win. However, Brokeback Mountain would probably snag the trophy for its more intimate feel as compared to standard fare of a crowd pleasing film. But the message in Munich is nonetheless clear, as hinted so subtly at a small scene of tuning a radio.

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