Munich (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two unenthusiastic reviews from two lifetime Spielberg fans.

 


Scoop's notes


Eleven Israeli athletes died in the 1972 Summer Olympics as a result of a kidnapping by a terrorist group named Black September and a botched rescue job by the Germans. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Israelis (unofficially, of course) dispatched a commando squadron of black operatives to kill all those who had been involved in the planning of the Munich kidnapping. Munich is Steven Spielberg's semi-historical film about the Jewish commandos assigned to the revenge squad.

Munich is a very good film. In fact, it has moments that are so good it is difficult to imagine any other filmmaker having tackled them so well. One scene involves the assassination of a rich Arab which almost killed his young daughter because she answered a phone during an unplanned visit to her father's office. The film portrays the incident as Hitchcock would have, with the Israelis rushing to undo plans already in motion. Another brilliant sequence involves a Dutch woman, a professional assassin who kills one of the Israelis and then is killed in turn by his colleagues. Perhaps the most impressive work involves the way Spielberg recreates the actual events in Munich with a combination of genuine period footage and re-enactment.

Munich is also a very important film, and a daring one at that. The continuing cycle of terrorist and anti-terrorist violence is probably the central issue of the 21st century, and will continue to be for some time. Spielberg didn't walk an especially safe path through this minefield. Although he is probably the world's single most visible Jew, and a man obviously proud of his cultural heritage, he didn't take a one-sided approach to the issue. He has no sympathy for the terrorists, but neither does he cheer for the Israeli response. In fact, he strongly indicts the leaders of Israel for having compromised their own core cultural values in their pursuit of revenge for the Munich killings, without ever really having accomplished any strategic goal. Every Arab they killed was soon replaced, and the Black September leaders were often replaced by fanatics who found Black September insufficiently radical. Spielberg did his very best to tell it like it is, and has taken some lumps from political nutburgers on both sides of the fence, because he has blamed them both. The film has some balls.

If Marty Scorsese had created Munich it would be considered another brilliant manifestation of his underappreciated genius, but whatever Spielberg does, it isn't enough. We hold Steven Spielberg to a higher standard than anyone in the world of film or pop culture. He created one of the most popular films of 2005 (War of the Worlds), as well as one of the most significant (Munich), and people seem to treat him as if he had a worse year than Rafael Palmeiro and George Bush combined. After all, Munich isn't the favorite for best picture, it's merely a nominee. After all, it grossed only $40 million from its monstrous $75 million budget. Never mind that none of the other Oscar nominees have grossed more than $53 million. They weren't directed by Spielberg. This is the man who has created some of the most profitable films in history. This is the man who has created some of the most significant films in history. This is the man who has created a vary large chunk of our childhoods and the popular iconography of our culture. Other directors are occasionally honored by a gold statuette. Spielberg is honored by theme parks. He has a very high bar to clear.

I read one negative review of Munich that said, in essence, the film wasn't very good because Spielberg had done nothing more than identify a well-known problem, and hadn't offered any solution. Say what? A solution? In other words, it isn't enough that he made a movie. Do we ask Marty Scorsese for the solution to organized crime? Do we demand that Ang Lee tell us how gay people can be accepted in society? No, they are only required to make films, but Spielberg won't have done enough until he has brought peace to the Middle East!

Perhaps it is right that we demand so much from him. Perhaps our demands make him greater. When people rode him for creating "mere" entertainment films back in the 70s and 80s, he responded with Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

In a very real sense, I hate to join the crowd which is so critical of Spielberg, and yet I had a problem with this film. As much as I admired the craftsmanship that went into Munich, I could never really get involved in it except during the sequences at the Olympics. Every previous Spielberg film, even Schindler's List and Amistad, manages to establish an emotional rapport with the audience in some way. This one does not. It is a cold, aloof, cerebral film filled with a mature awareness that human actions and reactions are complex and may be interpreted in many ways. It is the kind of film which might have been written by a championship debater who is always intensely aware of the weakness of every argument and every rebuttal to every argument. It does not allow the audience to root for anyone, nor does it allow the audience even to get to know anyone very well. Steven Spielberg, who has been so often criticized for leading with his heart and ignoring his brain, has made a film that doesn't have much heart at all.

So I'll raise my voice in praise of how complex and grown-up Munich is, and I'll be the first in line to praise about ten brilliant set pieces within the film, but I didn't really like it that much, and I can certainly understand why its box office gross is disappointing. I regard this movie as I regard Citizen Kane - a film to admire, but not one that makes me relish the thought of watching it again.

 

DVD INFO

  • An Introduction by Steven Spielberg
  • Munich: The Mission, The Team
  • Munich: Memories of the Event - Explore and discover the impact of the real events in Munich through documentary footage, film clips, BTS moments, and all new interviews with cast and crew including Steven Spielberg
  • Munich: Portrait of an Era - The re-creation of the 70¬ís with Production Designer Rick Carter and Costume Designer Joanna Johnston
  • Munich: The On-Set Experience - A moving and intricate exploration into the art and the politics involve with the making of Munich
  • Munich: The International Cast
  • Munich: Editing, Sound and Muisc - A discussion with Steven Spielberg and his collaborators, Composer John Williams and Editor Michael Kahn, on the final touches that will be added to Munich with editing, music and sound

 

NUDITY REPORT

Marie-Josee Croze is seen naked in the scene in which she is killed. There are close-ups of her breasts.

A man and a blonde women are caught in flagrante when a bomb goes off in the adjoining room. We see the woman's breasts and the man's bum.

 

Tuna's notes


Munich is allegedly based on the Israeli reaction to the slaughter of their Olympic team at the Munich Olympics by members of the Black September Palestinian extremists. A Mossad agent (Eric Bana) is tasked with leading a clandestine team im a mission to take out 11 key planners of the terrorist attack. Along the way, he and his men have moral reservations about what they are doing, and there is some doubt raised as to whether the Palestinians are any worse than the Israelis. Bana's conscience is further bothered by the very pregnant wife that he must be away from. When the Palestinians start targeting his team, life gets even more interesting.

I have been a Steven Spielberg fan since I sat mesmerized watching Dennis Weaver in a Duel with an unseen truck driver on TV in 1971. I normally don't care if he is making entertainment films like Raiders, or message films like Schindler's List. He is a class act, and normally sells whatever he works on. But I felt that this one was a waste of my time. A whole lot happened in the 164 minutes of running time, but I had trouble following what was going on because of the dark photography, and the non-linear story-telling, with the Olympic Village massacre intercut with the rest of the film. Worse yet, no characters were developed to the point where I cared what happened to them.

I found it very cold and dry. In an example that many use as one of the better scenes, a bomb is placed in a phone. It will be detonated from a handset. The target's young daughter answers the phone, and there is barely time to stop the man with the trigger. The daughter leaves the building, and the complete the hit. Had Spielberg been going for heart and emotion, he would have ended this strong scene by showing the young daughter's face as her father's window explodes above her.

I can't account for all that praise or the five Oscar nominations, other than they were influenced by the director, not the film

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: all four stars. James Berardinelli 4/4, Roger Ebert 4/4.

  • It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.

  • British consensus out of four stars: three stars. Mail 6/10, Telegraph 9/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 4/10, Sun 10/10, Express 8/10, Mirror 10/10, FT 8/10, BBC 5/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $70 million for production. It has grossed $43 million as I write this, and I don't expect it to get significantly higher.

 

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "It's a C+, I suppose. A well-crafted and (arguably) important film, but a very aloof one without a lot of mass audience appeal." Tuna adds, "It is clear that people who love message films enjoy this one, making it a C+."

Return to the Movie House home page