Monday, January 23, 2006


Munich is a film that seems to be in two minds. It seems like Spielberg, the accomplished director, was out to make a spare, intimate film about killing and vendetta and the human toll it takes. Entwined in it is a grand tale of Israel, the PLO and the 1972 massacre at the Olympics. Telling this second tale is Spielberg, the biggest blockbuster director of our era. They collide in uncomfortable ways, sometimes making you scratch your head.

I've been reading about the film, and though I've tried to avoid the reviews, methinks the coverage carried by Time and elsewhere is reading too much into a film, that, of course, has to have a lot of reading between the lines done to it. After all, it has all the characteristics of a zeitgeist-defining film.

1. Oscar-winning director with top box-office appeal? Check.
2. Middle-Eastern context? Check.
3. Moral Dilemma? Check.
4. Applicability to current political context? Check.
5. Gratuitous shot of the WTC? Check.

Except for the last bit, which would probably have been more surprising for its exclusion (see: The Gangs of New York*), the film itself isn't manipulative in any straightforward way. Spielberg sticks to his best skill: that of the story-teller. Albeit a stricter editor could've done something about the pace, this story of a bunch of Mossad spooks on a vengeance mission is although uneven, definitely worth a watch.

The film succeeds in its primary intent. We are drawn into the conflict faced by the agents with a license to kill. The quest to not cause collateral damage of the human kind starts off as an important part of the mission, but the blood-letting and the blood-let-ters grow increasingly nonchalant and even callous as the film progresses.

IMO, the film does put across well what it sets out to say- an eye for an eye, however hated or 'evil' the enemy is, takes its toll on the executors. Anyone but the most hard-boiled of ideologues would find it difficult to digest the kind of deaths the protagonists see and engineer. An uneasy encounter with people from the 'other' side (this scene is too pat IMO) adds to this discomfort, and the retaliations that ensue mean that the cycle is endless. The film offers no easy solutions, and I'd be loath to demand any.

The film is best watched without reading too much into anything, as that gives too much weight to what is ultimately a story of individuals. But as I mentioned earlier, the film is too important not to be minutely analyzed, every phrase parsed for nuances.

A thing that works for the film is the lack of serious box-office star power. Geoffrey Rush as the team's liasion with the government is (as expected) to the manner born. Eric Bana is surprisingly competent (except for an uneven accent) as the upright, no-questions-asked agent who starts having doubts down the line. The support cast is again competent with the future Bond (Daniel Craig) making an appearance too. With no couch-jumping antics, the focus of coverage on this film has been on the film and related issues, a welcome relief.

It's been a pleasant surprise - two good movies over two weekends, (Syriana and now this), with well-known stars/directors doing their serious turn.

* The ending credits of Gangs of NY showed a CG-created animation of the NYC skyline (as seen from the Brooklyn side) evolving over the years. It stops with a shot of the WTC. The film was released in 2002.
Scorsese chickening out? Not really, further research reveals.

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