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This is yet another historical movie where the history took place in my lifetime. Maybe, I'm getting old. I was watching the 1972 Olympics live and saw Jim McKay, Howard Cosell and other ABC sports reporters become news reporters as they were forced to cover the kidnapping, and then death of Israeli athletes at the hands of the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September. The early scenes of the new Spielberg film, Munich, recount these events using actual news footage, lending a documentary feel to the movie which doesn't entirely disappear once the newsreels give way to a dramatization of what may have happened after the Olympics. In a similar manner, Good night and Good Luck combined actual footage of Joe McCarthy with an actor (David Strathairn) playing Edward R. Murrow, shot in black and white, which makes the film seem like the real thing. The story of the Israelis' response to what happened at the Munich Olympics is based on the book, Vengeance by George Jonas. The book tells the story of a Mossad agent, the leader of a team of assassins, who took revenge on the people responsible for the attack. Israel denies that the events described in the book ever took place, so take this movie with a grain of salt. But also remember that the 11 Palestinians named in the movie were all actually assassinated by someone.
Munich tells the story of the Mossad agent (Eric Bana) who is given a secret mission to kill people thought to be associated with the planning of the attack on the 1972 Olympics. Shortly after the Olympics, he is called into a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen). His mission is off the books, i.e., Israel wants plausible deniability. His only official contact is with a Mossad case officer (Geoffrey Rush). Bana leaves his 7-months-pregnant wife (Ayelet Zorer) and goes out into the cold. He has four men with him on his team, a stone-cold killer (Daniel Craig), a bomb maker (Mathieu Kassovitz), a forger (Hanns Zischler) and the cleaner (Ciarán Hinds). (If you are uncertain about what a cleaner does, see Harvey Keitel in Point of No Return and Pulp Fiction). Bana and his team are paid through a Swiss bank account but otherwise they are on their own. They meet a mysterious father and son (Michael Lonsdale & Mathieu Amalric) who buy and sell information. Even though, Bana doesn't totally trust them, they provide the locations of the wanted Palestinians. The assassination team crosses the terrorists off their list one by one, but it is never easy and eventually, other assassins begin to hunt Bana and his team.
Eric Bana (Troy, The Hulk) is great as the good-guy assassin. In fact, the whole cast is great. After you see this, you can understand why they picked Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. He shows the cold side of Bond very well in Munich. Ciarán Hinds, the hard working character actor, seen most recently as Julius Caeser in the HBO Rome series, is great as the guy who cleans up after the other killers. The chameleon actor, Geoffrey Rush, is wonderful as usual. Lynn Cohen (Magda in Sex and the City) really looks like Golda Meir. The rest of the cast is a less well known group of non-english-speaking actors who are nonetheless very good in their roles. Kassovitz (France) and Zischler (Germany) round out the assassination team, and Amalric (France) has a nice small part as the source of Bana's information. You may recognize him from The Name of the Rose. Finally, Ayelet Zorer, a well known actress in Israel, really shines as Bana's wife.
I have to say that when he puts his mind to it, Steven Spielberg can make a better film than almost anyone else. He has always made great action and SciFi movies like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park. But in recent years, his best films, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and now Munich have been made from his heart. These films are about real events and involve normal people who are placed in intolerable situations and forced to do terrible things. The main character in Munich played by Eric Bana is portrayed as a normal family man who undertakes his mission for patriotic reasons. But the things he has to do, even though he believes in them, exact a terrible toll on him and the men working with him. The screenplay is by a couple of good writers, Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Eric Roth (The Horse Whisperer). But it is the direction by Spielberg that makes this movie really good. Spielberg doesn't let the story bog down even though it is 2 1/2 hours long. Munich is very atmospheric. Even though there is lots of action, this film has more to do with the inner life of the assassination team, and how, after their idealistic beginning, the work begins to wear them down, and the walls begin to close in on them. The subject of this movie is a bit of a downer but Spielberg has managed to make a tense intellectual thriller out of it. Go see it.