‘Munich’ review: still gripping, still relevant

No matter how its political stance has morphed in a world that’s gotten more polarized and acidic over the years, the parallax view now more intense and distorted from every which side, Munich still grips and enthralls. Based on the book Vengeance by George Jonas, director Steven Spielberg with writers Tony Kushner and Eric Roth recreates (and at times reimagines) a searing account of the under-wraps Operation Wrath of God that the Israeli government launched against individuals involved in the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Mathieu Amalric and Eric Bana: streets of danger.

Following the ragged journey of the five men tasked to travel, track, and kill members of the Black September and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Munich’s strength lies in its director’s firm and tight grip across its running time, waxing between a pulse-pounding, blood-chilling suspense format and waning to a steady, claustrophobic implosion of its protagonists. The acting is top-notch—Eric Bana plays Avner Kaufman, who heads the operation, a mix-veneer performance of patriotic toughness that’s increasingly darkened with the exploding stain of innocent blood and an ROI that’s without redemption. His team’s four volunteers from across the world: Steve (Daniel Craig, his act wired up and packed with gunpowder), a driver from South Africa, Belgian explosives expert Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz, in a warm performance and, under the circs, as likable as possible), Israeli ‘cleaner’ Carl (Ciarán Hinds, terrific and a scintillating highlight), and the Dutch document forger Hans (Hanns Zischler in a bow-tied paternal touch). 

Mathieu Kassovitz, Eric Bana, Ciarán Hinds, Hans Zischler, Daniel Craig: locking targets.

As the five keep trailing their targets with the help of French dobber Louis (Mathieu Amalric, so good as the dodgy, back-of-the-car slinker), Spielberg follows them using marvelous, tensile cinematography by Janusz Kamiński and an atmospheric score by John Williams, alternating between breath-taking countdowns to assassinations to troubling debates, using his five men to speak on our behalves. No one, least of Kaufman, can be as circumspect about the bloody mission as his handler Ephraim (the superb Geoffrey Rush in a gravelly, and well, circumspect performance). As the body count goes up parallel to the team’s closing in on prime suspect Salameh (Mehdi Nebbou), Kaufman is forced to calculate the price the mission’s extracted from his team and his persona. 

Munich doesn’t provide answers. To some, it doesn’t even ask all the questions or even asks the right ones. But what it showcases is a world that’s fuelled by money, sparked by religion, and torched by politics. Where peace is but a papier-mache. No matter which part of the globe you’re reading this in, that’s a frighteningly familiar scenario. 

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Munich is from my personal DVD collection and rated A (For adults only) for graphic violence and sensuality.

Director Steven Spielberg Time 2h 44min 
Writers Tony Kushner, Eric Roth, George Jonas (based on the book by)
Stars Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Mathieu Kassovitz, Geoffrey Rush, Ciarán Hinds
Genres Action, Drama, History, Thriller