Relevance. The most striking characteristic of Munich, is its relevance to today. There are many parallels you can draw while watching this film of violence, moral ambiguity and thrilling exchanges between governments and spies. One of the better films this year, although I don't see it winning an Academy Award for its sheer ferocity and the fact that it is far too much of a downer.
Eric Bana plays Avner, a covert spy/assassin for the Israeli government. He accepts a job (despite having a seven-month pregnant wife) as leader of a 5 man team to extinguish the lives of the eleven men responsible for the terrorist acts at the summer olympics in Munich of 1972. The five man team is a terrific ensemble (in terms of characterization and drama). Each one has something different to offer the team and each one is better or worse at it than the others; a gunman, an explosives man, a "cleaner-up of messes" and a document forger. Soon, more names are added to the hit list and Avner begins to wonder who is right and who is wrong and what is right and wrong. Paranoia sets in and the story winds down a long dark road.
So the film, although using authentic television coverage in some scenes, is not about the actual events that took place at Munich that summer. It is about the semi-fictional ensuing events and actions taken by the Israeli government. We occassionally flash back to those Olympic moments throughout the movie so we know what we're fighting for and why, but it is not the centerpeice of the movie. The underground intrigue of the spy world is really the hammer that hits this nail of a movie on the head.
I don't want to give too much away or bring my personal politics into play, but the leading question this film begs is, is fighting terrorism worth it? For every terror suspect that is killed, another, often worse one, springs up to take his place. For every assassination that is carried out, another bomb goes off in a subway or restaurant. When Avner asks this question of his contact, his answer is one of my favorite lines in the film, "My fingernails will grow back, should I not cut them?" The film begins with a strong feeling of patriotism and anger and doing the right thing, but as the various twists and turns of the espionage world begin to make the team dizzy, everyone begins to have second thoughts about "doing the right thing." Once Avner gets his answer from his contact, he walks away in wonder as the camera slowly pans upward at the NYC skyline and there, as a tesitmony of what's to come, stands the World Trade Center.
Bana's character is awesome. He nails the strange foreign dialect of an Israeli world traveler very well. We can almost see the thoughts swimming in his head as he has to make death or death decisions for his team, the terrorists and even his family. One of the best scenes in the film takes place in a stairwell where he actually sits down with "one of the bad guys" and discusses the conflict over a cigarette. Fantastic exchange. Geoffrey Rush shines too as Avner's sole Israeli contact. He seems so authentic and unforgiving. I couldn't decide if I loved him for his passion, or hated him for his arrogance. Not to take away anything from any other actor in the film. Each one offers something to the table that is irreplaceable. From Avner's wife, to the secret information source, to each of the team members and other salient characters. Spielberg knows how to pick 'em right.
An intense thinker, Munich won't allow the audience to escape the theater without something to ponder. Besides the literally explosive sets, the intense gun battles in the streets, the ambushes and secret meetings in dark alleys, there is an underlying subtext of questioning everything as good or evil and the Israeli's place on this earth. Spielberg, probably the most visible Jew in Hollywood, has chosen a stance of unbiassed sideline observer for this tale. Some have called the film a testament to Israel's right to land, where I've heard others call it blatantly anti-semitic. I call it genius. Whichever side of the fence you lie politically or on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no one can dispute the fact that Speilberg has once again given us something to ponder and cherish. A story that is very obvious but very much open for debate and reflection. For those of us who know little or nothing about the actual events that took place in the 70's regarding the Jewish fight against evil, prepare yourself for an engrossing, absorbing film that travels the globe and opens your mind.