The Hunter Becomes the Haunted

If the “Mission Impossible” films choose to be more realistic, rather than an escapist Bond-wannabe thriller, they might play out something like “Munich.” This Best Picture nominee, inspired by real events, is about a group of assassins clandestinely hired by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to kill eleven men believed to have planned terrorism acts against Israel, including the infamous hostage crisis in Munich.

“Munich” looks absolutely promising in the sense that the hostage crisis is only its jumping point. A film can be made entirely about that tragedy, but the aftermath proves to be a better (albeit a lesser known) story. This is a movie that has things up its sleeves and its muscular arms are long (and hairy maybe). The movie flexes muscles of smarts, thriller, suspense, drama, and relevancy. This one is diesel yo.

I have a nagging theory why this is so. I think Spielberg is not so content on simply being Spielberg. While he can be masterful, he shows here that he’s also a hardworking student, learning from other masters of cinema. “Munich” feels like an amalgam of different styles. I can’t help but think of “The Godfather” in certain scenes. And for thrills, he walks along assured rhythms with the likes of De Palma and Hitchcock. Even the film’s trusted MacGuffin couldn’t be more classic than a bomb set to explode. However, what Spielberg improves upon the thriller genre is a palpable verisimilitude. Plans will veer off course and yes, peculiar things happen, but it’s peculiarity that reality can inspire.

The political drama in “Munich” is effective when it remains in the backdrop. It hovers like an inescapable dark cloud over the protagonists even if they pull off some killings. Vengeance might be the throbbing motivation, but hardly the right attitude in the global scale picture. This is what group leader Avner (Eric Bana) realizes. He might entirely hunt down the enemy list, but a new list will haunt him back. He’s in the midst of a cyclical and multigenerational war, nourished by the stubborn need for retaliation. Spielberg suggests that it takes two to dance this war and either side is to blame. This might be the first time I’ve seen Jews, those “innocent” victims of the Holocaust, painted in a harsh but realistic portrait.

When the drama emerges to the foreground however, the movie suffers. The last act meanders in afterthought. I guess that’s the problem with portraying the ongoing real world. There’s no such thing as an ending. But the way this movie concludes bothers me. I’m talking about a scene where Spielberg juxtaposes a horrifying scene with lovemaking. It totally took me out of the picture; I was distracted and frankly disgusted.

Except for a prolonged last act, I thought the movie is brilliant. It stays riveting for more than two hours. That’s quite a praise, considering that I’ve developed impatience as a skill. Luckily, I’m not strong enough to be immune to great movies. Had “Munich” shot me, I would have been dead.

Grade: A

Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Ciarán Hinds, Hanns Zischler, and Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenplay by
Tony Kushner
Based on the book Vengeance by
George Jonas
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
Rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language