Friday, December 23, 2005

Munich - Movie Review

Munich 2005

On the way into the theatre to view Steven Spielberg’s latest, we overheard two bitches muttering: “So, like, this is going to be serious?” Well, yes. For those of you who randomly enter movie theatres when you’re bored like a pack of wandering Lemmings, please be warned that yes indeed, this film concerns such serious topics as terrorism, assassinations and the wonderfully kooky Israeli / Palestinian conflict. No spaceships, headstrong archaeologists armed with bull whips or dinosaurs chasing urchins. Now and then, Steven Spielberg enjoys flexing his “intellectual” muscles, and for good or bad he often comes up resembling that old connoisseur of the popcorn flick, Cecil B. DeMille. Now we are not disparaging Mr. Spielberg – we think comparing him to ole C.B. is quite the compliment. It’s just that we do not agree with the plebian consensus that ranks Spielberg as the greatest living director. (We ourselves are more partial to Scorsese, Altman and Malick – and Please God, let it hurry up and be Christmas Day so we can view his latest!)

Anywho, back to the flick at hand. There is much to enjoy. And some to dislike. For all the whining over the three hours it takes to unspool the wonderful remake of “King Kong”, we never found ourselves tapping our watches. We did during the near three hours it took to parlay the events of “Munich.” We suppose that’s what happens when you combine Hollywood’s most powerful director, with Broadway’s most verbose playwright, and the screenwriter of “Forrest Gump.” And herein lays our major issue with “Munich.” WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU STEVE, TO TIGHTEN THE FLICK BY A GOOD HALF HOUR????? Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick! We love a good long engrossing epic, but an inflated story, we have little patience for. Whew! There. That’s out of our system. Now to the good stuff.
Since ole Steverino has the mega-clout, he can pretty much write his own ticket. And in telling the alleged backstory behind the 1972 Munich Olympics bloodfest, and the multiple assassinations they inspired in retaliation, Stevie has lined up his usual top notch production staff, excluding composer John Williams and a wonderful international array of leading men and character actors. Australian Eric Bana is a strong lead as the Israeli hero Avner, placed in charge of his cabal of covert counter terrorists. And Lord knows, he’s easy on the eyes.

Daniel Craig, that talented little piece of British ass and future James Bond is wonderful as the South African second hand man. Ireland’s own Ciarán Hinds brings all the forcefulness of his RADA training to bear in the role of the clean up man. That mini and mighty French actor / director Mathieu Kassovitz expertly handles the jangled nerves of their assigned explosives expert. And Germany provides Hanns Zischler, the thug. Typical.

Also seen to fine effect, is ever reliable Oscar winning Geoffrey Rush as the mastermind behind the operations. And from “Sex & the City”, Miranda’s cleaning lady, Lynn Cohen in a wonderful turn portraying Israel’s famed then Prime Minister Golda Meir, who authorized the covert operations in response to the murders in Munich.

In two smaller, yet pivotal roles: Israeli actresses, Ayelet Zurer and Gila Almagor score hits as Avner’s stoic wife and admonishing mother. And it was a true delight to see that one time Bond villain and talented veteran Michael Lonsdale flex his considerable charms as the head of the French connection. Has it really been over thirty years since his wonderful performance in that classic of international espionage, “The Day of the Jackal”? Indeed, kudos to Spielberg and his casting army for their inspired choices.

The film does a solid job in depicting the various international backdrops for the espionage, and should be commended for juggling the political viewpoints involved. It should come as no surprise, as co-screenwriter Tony Kushner earned his justifiable fame with a similar hat trick on the seminal “Angels in America” magnum opus. The power of the key scenes involving the executions is not to be denied. Fairly seat shaking they were! And we did enjoy Avner’s backstory involving his family and their emotional pull on his conscience. Yet, in attempting to paint a full canvas of the goings on, the screen seemed to be cluttered with excess plot points. It isn’t that we were ever bored, just restless. Did it really need to stretch on and on and on? There were more false endings that the alleged ones to be found in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”! We hate blaming Steve and Tony, so we’ll assign it to co-screenwriter Eric Roth, who penned the interminable “Forrest Gump”.

Some have argued that the film lacks a cohesive point of view. Perhaps. We would argue that the convoluted and heated debate between Israel and Palestine has no solution. Despite the socio political intrigue involved, this is basically a film about retribution. And who could possible win, when this much blood is spilt? Boys with guns should just be told to whip it out; we’ll bring the measuring tape and settle this once and for all. Enough. Where’s the love? (And trust us, with Eric Bana and Daniel Craig on hand - we'd be thrilled to be the official judges!)

Still, it should come as no surprise to our legions of fans that we appreciate any film that is intelligently made and features excellent performances and production values. While it may not land on our Top 10 List (coming soon, never fear) of 2005, we enjoyed visiting this little corner of “Munich.” We just wish we had brought along a comfortable cushy for our tushy – it’s a long haul! Bless you all!

(End note: The film opens with the disclaimer / tease – “Inspired by Real Events”, which has become the film industry’s legal loophole to avoid all kinds of law suits. It seems that the book “Vengeance” which inspired the flick has taken some hard knocks over the years for its alleged little white lies. Amazing ain’t it? That a film might actually be made up, despite its historical background. Shocking! Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us that giant apes don’t really exist!)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Tony Kushner & Eric Roth
Based on the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas

Eric Bana as Avner
Daniel Craig as Steve
Ciarán Hinds as Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz as Robert
Hanns Zischler as Hans
Ayelet Zurer as Daphna
Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim
Gila Almagor as Avner’s Mother
Michael Lonsdale as Papa
Mathieu Amalric as Louis
Lynn Cohen as Golda Meir

Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski
Film Editing by Michael Kahn
Costume Design by Joanna Johnston
Production Design by Rick Carter
Original Music by John Williams
Art Direction by Ino Bonello, Tony Fanning, Andrew Menzies, David Swayze & János Szabolcs
Set Decoration by John Bush