In 1972, Palestinian terrorist group Black September murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Munich, director Steven Spielberg’s (War of the Worlds) latest offer, traces the purported events that followed, as Israelis sent trained assassins to kill every terrorist involved.
The plot revolves around Avner (Eric Bana, Troy) who leads a mission of five assassins secretly employed by the Israeli government to dedicate their lives to hunting down and executing Black September members. When his mission begins, Avner obsesses about the righteousness of his cause. But as members of his group are killed and he himself becomes a target of Black September, his commitment wavers and he becomes a man haunted by doubt about whether he can justify his actions.
Spielberg supports this slow but layered film with an extremely strong cast. Those who play Avner’s fellow assassins, including Daniel Craig (Sylvia) and Ciarán Hinds (TV’s Rome), are intriguing without dominating the film. The legendary Geoffrey Rush (The Life and Death of Peter Sellars) provides a disturbing characterization as Avner’s contact. But it is Bana who is simply brilliant—portraying Avner’s psychological state with delicacy, restraint and depth. Throughout the movie we see a man whose every fundamental belief and pride in his country and people is undermined, leaving him in a state of despair. Bana may have appeared in some dubious films in the past, but his performance here makes him a serious contender for a great character actor.
The cinematography is intense. Strange sharp camera angles, grainy shots, and dirty colors add to the film’s mood of instability and hysteria. Munich is an interesting juxtaposition of calm combined with circumstances that rapidly threaten to fly out of control.
Though there is violence, this is by no means an action film. Rather, it is a thoughtful exploration into the politics and emotions that drive human animosity. For a Spielberg film, it is quietly restrained—and conspicuously exchanges clichés and overtly obvious symbolism for subtlety and density. There is no judgment made. Instead, Spielberg reveals how each side’s rigid beliefs compound the delicately fraught situation. Add to this Munich’s obvious topical relevance, and what Spielberg has achieved is impressive. Although he’s had such a long career, Spielberg has done the unexpected and changed directions: This is a serious movie that doesn’t try to be a big American blockbuster.