Okay, why is the first post of my blog a movie review? Well, the answer is not a straightforward one. I find Spielberg's Munich one of the most reflective films I have seen in my life. I myself am a bit of a reflective person, so the way I review this movie should give the readers of this blog an idea as to what I am like. Then there is also terrorism, a topic on which I have pondered and read, having seen the horrors of it in my own country. And finally, this is an attempt to observe things with a sharpish eye, which is a skill I need to develop.
The film deals with the Munich Massacre of 1972 Olympics when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Black September fedayeen. As an answer, Israel sent death squads of their feared Mossad agents to hunt down the perpetrators of the massacre in Europe. (Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister at the time, reportedly asked the generals to "send forth the boys.") The story follows one such squad, the leader of which is stoic, tough and cool Avner (played superbly by Eric Bana). Other squad members include the aggressive Steve (Daniel Craig - way more realistic a spy in this film as compared to any of his tomfooleries as James Bond) , the quiet and enigmatic Carl (Ciaran Hinds - for those who don't know, Abreforth Dumbledore from Deathly Hallows part I ), the baby-of-the-family Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) and the fatherly Hans (Hans Zischler).
The film starts with some American athletes unknowingly helping the fedayeen disguised as athletes enter the Olympic village. (I have always wondered if this was symbolic) The kidnapping of the athletes is given a touch of reality by including news reels and clips from those times. (The only one I could recognize was of Peter Jennings) The film wants to make it clear right from the start that it does not intend to take sides: there is a shot of Arab refugees watching a TV, huddled together. The very next shot shows Israeli generals doing the exact same thing in Jerusalem.
The characters are portrayed in a near-perfect manner by the actors, with the most powerful performance belonging to the short cameo of Golda Meir by Lynn Cohen. Some superb cinematography ensures that her already strong character appears even more so. Bana plays his part well, acting the tough yet caring Mossad agent. His reaction when he hears his newborn daughter's voice for the first time is simply too good. No actor of his generation in India, in my opinion, barring a few character actors, can pull that one off. We journey across time and space with Bana's character as he kills, murders and shoots his way through the terrorist hideouts of Europe. But when the terrorists start hitting back at the team, the pressure builds up on the young Kidon leader. We see him trying to figure out what to do but not really succeeding there. After a failed attempt on the life of Ali Hasan Salameh and the death of all his team members except him and Steve (Craig), Avner becomes disillusioned with the whole operation, questioning the very relevance of what he is doing. What the film fails to show is this though: Is this transformation the result of sheer frustration? (Taking human lives is not an easy job. You can NEVER convince your conscience that you're doing the right thing, especially if you sneak up on your targets like common mobsters.) Or has he seriously reflected upon what he is doing and realized the strategic futility of the whole thing? (Critics of Mossad say that their gung-ho methods never stopped or even slowed down terrorism. Maybe.) I feel this is an important question that the film should have answered. In other characters, Jonathan Rozen's Ehud Barak will surely bring a smile on your lips.
There are some moments in the film that never fail to chill me to my very bones every time I think of them:the first scene ends with a TV reel of the photos of the killed athletes with "Hatikva" being sung in the background. As the TV shows pictures of those athletes, Mossad people are seen identifying pictures of the masterminds of the attack. For reasons that include words like ruthlessness, efficiency, coldness and fury, I find this shot giving me goosebumps every time I see the film. Some shots, on the other hand, make you think about things you've never thought of before. For example, the last but the most defining shot of the film , when Avner and his cool spymaster Ephraim (played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush - Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean) have a chat in New York. In the skyline of the Big Apple, the silhouettes of the newly built World Trade Center are clearly visible, signifying the long-term futility of the entire affair and giving, for the first time, a glimpse into the mind of the director. Yes, it is the only moment when Spielberg, in my opinion, reveals what he really thinks of the whole episode. It is also, as I said, the most defining moment of the film.
Overall, a lovely film that forced me to think more than I ever had on the issue of terrorism. I give it 4.5/5. A must watch for those reflective souls out there.