Throughout his career, Steven Spielberg has managed to successfully portray many significant historical events from unique and intriguing perspectives that work to make his films insightful as well as entertaining. With an exceptional body of work that includes “The Color Purple,” “Schindler’s List” and “Amistad,” Spielberg has depicted various types of hardship, tragedy, and injustice. Each of these films has not shied away from showing some grim or disturbing encounter in order to personify such painful chapters in our history. It is safe to say that his latest historical dramatization is no exception to that tradition. With “Munich,” Spielberg uses the aftermath of an international catastrophe to illustrate the onslaught of violence that results out of terrorist acts and the vengeance crusades that often preceed them. In depicting such necessary violent encounters, this film practically defies the audience’s expectations for a historical account from this revered filmmaker.
Beginning with the game opening events at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September stormed the Israeli athletes’ compound and eventually killed all eleven of them, this film sets out on an ambitious journey to tell the story of the little-known, secret mission that followed. In order to avenge this brutal attack, the Israeli government unofficially sanctioned a small team of selected loyalists to eradicate those individuals who had a hand in the terrorist massacre. The leader of this team, a Mossad agent named Avner (Eric Bana) embodies every quality that a leader should have. He is thoughtful, resolute, goal-oriented and conscientious. As he and his committed team of experts in various fields travel throughout Europe to locate and eliminate their targets, Avner for the most part, exhibits three out of those four qualities in completing his mission. However, as his conscience begins to rear its ugly head, the question of whether the work that he and his team are completing is still in service to their nation and slain countrymen, or if it has opened a new door to an entirely unrelated series of violent acts, becomes all too real. As one kill begins to mount on another, a more confused and paranoid Avner soon realizes that he has embarked on a mission wrought with deeply impacting personal consequences that neither he nor anyone else on the team could have foreseen in their pursuit for some kind of justice.
Being consistently vivid and hard-hitting, Spielberg’s film proves to be both engaging and thought provoking. Amid the circulating themes of the film, there is the classic element of suspense that continues to reappear with each episodic kill, as their outcomes are never certain. This added cinematic ingredient works to captivate viewers’ continued interest in the poignant events that are ensuing. Although there are some parts that seem like they are straying away from the intended plot, Spielberg always manages to get his film back on track to the point where audiences will appreciate having sat through scenes that might have otherwise appeared to be momentary lapses.
While the performances, for the most part, are superb and passionate (especially Bana in the role of the conflicted leader of this mission) it is the overall plot of the film that stands out as the true cinematic powerhouse. Although not without its meager flaws, Spielberg’s tale of vengeance succeeds in bringing out larger issues that are perhaps more relevant in today’s society than they were during the years to the follow the Munich Olympics. His forthright account of this important event and the consequences that it created intentionally holds no bars and, to great effect, executes its story in a brutally necessary fashion. It also manages to maintain neutrality, as it remains pro-Israel but does not necessarily justify the underground assassinations, which were authorized by their government. It is for these reasons, among a few others embedded in the quality of this powerful piece, that “Munich” manages to be one of the most fascinating and essential films to come out this year, and one of the best to be crafted by a director who has continually solidified his reputation as an invaluable filmmaker time and again.