Sunday, June 10, 2007

Munich (2005)

Before this movie was released, Kathleen Kennedy (I think) said that it was Spielberg's best movie ever, a great film of the ages, yada yada yada.

One thing could have tipped you off that all of this was empty hype: Eric Roth co-wrote it.

I can't speak much to the facts in this particular Docu-Drama™, but given the what Spielberg put together, it wouldn't surprise me if very little of this is based in fact.... other than the Munich events themselves, and that many of those responsible were later assassinated. Slate goes into this a little bit.

One of the tipoffs that this is another work of fiction "based on fact" by Roth is that these characters are the lamest assassins ever. On their first shooting, they hemmed and hawed about pulling the trigger. You're telling me that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency traditionally known as bad asses, recruited hitmen who would get cold feet right when they had a gun drawn on one of the Black September terrorists who killed their countrymen? Not only that, their crack bombmaker is a toymaker who was trained to defuse bombs and their bookkeeper was some guy who ran an antique store. That's exactly who I would recruit for this if I was the Prime Minister of Israel (who they connect to this plot at the beginning).

This movie is a mess. Spielberg tells us about the Munich massacre through a bunch of scenes as told on television. Later, he fills in the missing details through flashbacks that Eric Bana has at dramatic times: flying to his first assassination mission, as he hides in the closet on night from assassin paranoia, and while he has sex with his wife. None of this is at all meaningful, or symbolic. It's just that Roth, Michael Kahn, or Spielberg, or whoever, realized that this movie would duller if they had just laid out the Munich story as it should have been: at the beginning.

Spielberg at his worst puts in cool filmmaking tricks for no reason, and this movie has a few of those, like the TV clips at the beginning. The second one is the reveal of the prime minister, Golda Meir. She's hidden behind a file folder they pass down a row of people and then gets revealed when the folder is flipped down. It looks cool on film until you realize how awkward it was.. and for no reason. This is what happens when a good director makes a film with very little story substance.

The only decent parts of the film are the actual plots for assassination, which attempt to be spy-movie-like. However some of these were so poorly executed, in film terms, that the FX crew should be embarrassed. One scene had guns pointed the wrong way out of a car, yet those bullets hit their target (blood packs went off). In the same scene, there was at least one blood pack that went off prematurely to a gunshot as well. I have no eye for practical effects, but even I was able to catch these.

One criticism I had heard of the movie was it was sympathetic to the Munich terrorists. I didn't really feel that way, except for one scene where some Palestinian guys end up at the same "safe house" as the Israeli hit squad. That scene was so forced that it could have been there to alleviate the concern that the movie is too pro-Israel. Well, I'm sure that scene alone has people are lining up to see the film in Damascus. Right.

As always, the movie is too long. Spielberg seems big on scripts that have the old wise person show up halfway through to guide the protagonist. Munich is no exception, however the relationship between those characters is fleeting (except in screen time) and has no bearing on the real story. Even Minority Report, which had a ghastly instance of the Old Wise Person appearance (the lady with the plants), had more relevant story in that meeting. Removing the Old Wise One from Munich could have easily stripped an hour from this movie and not lost a thing.

JSS Rating: Yet another Bad Good™ rating for an Eric Roth movie. However, unlike The Good Shepherd, this film is watchable. HBO HD is where I saw it, and that's where I'd recommend seeing it if you ever have 3 absolutely free hours of time.

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