Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 2:45
for strong graphic violence,
some sexual content,
nudity and language.
For a movie that had all the pieces in place to be a great film, Munich left me feeling nothing.
At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. After three days, the terrorists, along with their hostages, were given free release to the airport. But the promise of freedom was a set-up and a sniper team was at the airport, ready to take out the terrorists. The terrorists however, killed all of the hostages. Following the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized the Mossad, the Israeli secret police, to go after Black September, the group behind the Munich event, and kill those who took part in the planning and carrying out of the attack. A team of five was chosen and over the period of over a year, they traveled in and around Europe to track down and kill the Black September members. Not all the team members survived, and those that did had to live with their actions, for better or for worse.
The story of what happened in 1972 is a horrifying one. It was so brazen that you can't believe it really happened. How could a group of people so easily sneak into the Olympic Village and take people hostage? The fact that the aftermath was televised made it even worse. But Munich wasn't about what happened at the Olympics; it's about what happened afterwards. And the reason I didn't enjoy the movie as much as I could have was because I didn't feel any emotional connection to any of the people up on the screen. Eric Bana played Avner, the leader of the Mossad team that went after the Black September members. His performance was solid, but not extraordinary, and it was only in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie that I felt any emotion come from him. Only after all the killings took place, and his world started to crumble because now people were coming after him, did I feel sympathy or empathy for his character. Otherwise he and everyone else were just robots. They showed no emotion, so I didn't feel any. Every so often a supporting character would question why they were doing this, or we'd see the point of view of a member of the PLO, but for the most part, people did things because they were told, not because they believed in it. Or at least that's how it appeared on screen.
This was the kind of movie that could have gone a few ways. It could have become an action film, with each assassination being a series of exciting events. It could have been a serious political drama, with the audience learning more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and understanding both sides of the story. It could have been a simple documentary rehashing the events and letting us decide which way to go. Instead, it was a mash up of all the styles so the movie didn't feel whole. There were bits and pieces of each style and it never let the audience get into the film. Director Steven Spielberg made a decision to show the Munich attacks bit by bit throughout the movie, and it was a decision that I think didn't pay off. The film starts with the Palestinians breaking into the Olympic village. Then a while later, we see how some of the hostages died. Then a little while later, we see them leave the village in a bus. And it was only towards the very end of the movie that we see what happened at the airport. I believe that if we had been allowed to see all of the events at the beginning of the movie, I would have felt more connected to the Mossad agents during the rest of the movie. While I understood why they were doing what they were doing, without seeing the horrible events themselves, I felt like I was missing a piece of the story.
Although everything that happened took place before I was born, I knew the basics of the story. After watching the movie I did some research and read up on what really happened, and I found out details that had they been more prominent in the movie, might have made a difference. For instance, the German police didn't have a department that could handle a situation like this, so the botched rescue attempt at the airport was conducted by five sharpshooters who had no idea what they were doing. None of them were trained, one of them was placed in position where he could be hit by friendly fire, and they underestimated the number of terrorists that were there. In the movie we see only that one sniper looked like he was confused, but nothing else. There was nothing about the mass confusion that took place, or the lack of negotiating. Seeing as how the movie runs in at two hours and 45 minutes, I think a lot of things that happened in the middle could have been taken out so that we could have a more thorough understanding of what happened in the beginning.
Had this movie been made by another director, I highly doubt there would have been this much hype. But a movie about Jewish athletes being murdered by Muslim terrorists, directed by a Jew who just happens to be named Spielberg? This movie was an event film years ago when it was first just being discussed. And maybe that's part of the disappointment I feel. I expect more from the 'serious' Spielberg films. I know the film was rushed into release, since it was only shot this summer. Maybe some more time in the editing room would have helped. Maybe some more insight into the characters would have helped. Who were these agents? Where did they come from, what did they believe? Avner was the only agent we got to know, and as I said, it was only towards the end of the movie that I really got to feel anything for him. The other agents were nice enough, but had no story to tell; they were just along for the ride so when one or more of them would be killed, I didn't really care all that much. And while I can never condone what the Palestinians did in Munich, they had their reasons, and we never got to hear them. A single conversation in a stairwell with a member of the PLO is not enough. Make me understand what happened, let me get into that world so that I can feel and understand what Avner is going through.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed with Munich. This was a story that was very interesting and could have been made into a great movie, but instead was a hodgepodge of different styles that never let the audience feel an emotional connection with the characters. Definitely not one of Spielberg's shining moments.
Netflix lets you rent, watch and return DVDs from home – Now from only a month!