Spielberg delivers thorough account of 1972 Olympics massacre
It feels odd to give a rapturous popcorn box to a movie drenched in such weltsmertz, but Munich is easily Steven Spielberg’s best movie in years—if not the very best.
Here he flashes back to 1972, as the children of the Holocaust set down in Munich, Germany to participate in the Summer Olympics, an event drenched in symbolism a scant 30 years after World War II. Soon after, the world watched ABC Wide World of Sports in horror as a Palestinian organization calling itself Black September stormed the dormitories and took the Jewish athletes hostage, demanding the release of Arab compatriots held by the state of Israel.
It ended very badly for everyone involved. Even when the siege ended, the bloodshed wasn’t over. In the wake of the massacre, prime minister of Israel Golda Mier authorized the formation of a team of assassins to track down all involved in the planning of the atrocity and eliminate each participant with extreme prejudice. Led by a seemingly naïf former Mossad Officer (Eric Bana), the team globe-hopped with lethal determination and left behind a very messy pattern of retribution—a pattern that would soon come full circle.
Surprisingly enough, Spielberg chronicles this exercise in body count with a measured hand, portraying the events with a seeming lack of bias. While the characters involved may participate in unthinkable violence, under the director’s eye they still breathe with their own twisted humanity, the atrocities committed rationalized within their world view.
With no easy escapism of black and white, the world of Munich is of varying shades of gray. Each character, regardless of their sympathies, is portrayed without fangs, depicting the horror of their actions with an ambiguity rarely affected in mainstream film. If someone perceives a political agenda here (other than a condemnation of the cycle of violence inherent in blood enmity, and the allegorical parallels of post-9/11), it is most likely the one they brought into the theater with them.
Spielberg is both thematically and visually at the top of his game here, weighing in with a three-hour film that in the end feels much shorter. Filmed in the gritty style of such ‘70s thrillers as Day of the Jackal and The French Connection, the man still manages to indulge in virtuoso stylistic flourishes without being overt with them, an uncanny talent that never draws attention at the time to what he is doing with the camera, only realized after leaving the theater.
Just be advised: the film is rated R for a reason, with more graphic headshots and disassembled flesh than the last George Romero movie.