Steven Spielberg's 'Munich' explores, in a deeply introspective manner, the terribly cyclic nature of violence. The scope of this theme revolves trekking multiple countries in Europe, leaving behind a deathly crimson trail and diving into a spree of cold blooded murder. The act that spurs this vengeful quest is the now infamous killings of Israeli athletes by members of the Palestinian Black September squad in Munich and though the film shows in flashbacks what happened, it does not ponder on it but instead focuses on its terrible repercussions while striving to draw parallels with the killers then and their assassins now.
Because much of the film takes place after the events at Munich, dates, locations and people become secondary but are never ignored. This is after all about the aftermath and its collective toll on the people who seek vengeance. In that aftermath are assembled a team of Mossad agents lead by Avner, here played with enormous conviction by Eric Bana in his usual understated self. His team is given a list of names to track, severed ties with and shipped off to Zurich from where their shady operation commences. The people assigned to carry out the revenge, for that is what this surely must be, are given seemingly limitless money and resources but no real instructions, reinforcing the fact that because of this free reign afforded to them, the assignment is meant to frighten and cause massive despair. The hits on the marked men are neither calculated nor meticulous – they are imprecise and more often than not, very messy. But a reversal of situations soon follows and when the hunters become the hunted, confusion, paranoia and a feeling of futility sets in, especially when the targets eliminated are replaced and these replacements are asked to be taken out.
The rich narrative constantly tussles with morality, personal guilt and the politics of the time and Spielberg, as director, also somehow, miraculously, films all his situations as if filming a very tight thriller, which really works well. All of the director's undertakings are not completely flawless though – the last act overstays its welcome and could have severely benefited from some judicious trimming while the attempts at displaying maturity as a filmmaker seemed sometimes too obvious. But the objectivity of it all in some ways makes watching Munich, the flip side of the perspective we saw in the exceptional 'Paradise Now'.
It is difficult for me to talk about a movie like this without reflecting upon the underlying politics (or propaganda) of its makers and their support for these people. Yet, what is admirable, truly noteworthy, is the even-handedness and attempted objectivity with which it is approached. I was made to feel that all the killings were wanton and unnecessary but not without being shown what the other side also felt about it, as conveyed to the audience in a great verbal tête-à-tête between Avner and a Jordanian man he encounters while staking out in an Athens safe house.
I would be considered too insensitive to merit Spielberg and his efforts and not lament on the controversy of it all, but I am not qualified to talk about it and have chosen to simply reflect on the aesthetics of its exceptional filmmaking and entertainment value, and none of its more scathing standpoints. As a film watcher, you could do little wrong by viewing what is certainly a stellar achievement of exceptional production values, balanced storytelling and complete white knuckle suspense. - Faizan Rashid