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Munich - Movie Review

Spielberg was a director who knew how to manipulate the emotions of his audience. The last time he did that to me with a serious subject was with 'Saving Private Ryan'. In 'Munich', he has great scope to tell a powerful story that is very important and will resonate with the global citizen today. The screenplay is good and the execution is also good, but when it comes to such stories, good is not good enough. He called 'Munich' a prayer for peace. It succeeds as a story but fails as a prayer. This movie is enjoyable on a few planes, but falls heavily short of the stature of a masterpiece of which sparks it possesses.

'Munich', at the superficial level is the story of the response of Israeli intelligence to the massacre of twelve of their Olympic representatives in Munich, Germany in 1972. As espionage thrillers go, Spielberg does a good job of bringing a 1970s operation to life. At the next level, 'Munich' is about terrorism. Spielberg asks the usual questions with uncommon intelligence: Who is responsible? Will terrorism solve the problem? Is a home more important than a life? How will this end? Spielberg delivers at this level. All those questions lingered on my mind when the credits rolled. At the third and innermost level, 'Munich' deals with the degradation of the human element. The segment that should have squeezed the soul somehow didn't affect me. Mr.Spielberg, there you failed to touch me.

Five good Mossad operatives are pulled out and assigned the covert job of finding and killing eleven terrorists who were involved in the Munich massacre. Avner (Eric Bana) is the head and Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) is their handle to the government to fund them abundantly. We see these characters most of the time, especially Avner. And Avner does a good job of presenting himself as a patriotic officer who eventually grows into a mis-trust wrapped under insecurity. Since we spend most of the time with these Israeli agents and since we never get a close-up of their targets, we never sympathize their deaths.

Avner who starts out a 'family man - clean officer' type slowly sinks into inhumanity. His trademark question before killing a target is "Do you know why we are here?" After the first murder, he just flees the scene. He can't compare that murder to that of a soldier killing an enemy to safeguard his country. By the time he kills the last person, who is not even on the list of targets, he coolly asks "Do you know why we are here?", kills her, stands there for a few minutes and walks away. In the time that has passed, Avner has seen enough assassinations both from the Israeli and the Palestenian armies and covert groups that Avner accepts killing as a way of protecting his homeland, lifestyle, wife and child.

Spielberg uses another symbol to portray this moral descend: the day before Avner leaves his wife on his mission, he has sex very passionately with his wife who is seven months pregnant. Spielberg also uses his directorial skills to express the depth and intimacy of their relationship in those few minutes. The body language of couple, camera positioning and editing all swiftly tell us that they are just another happy innocent pair enjoying their lives. When Avner is back from the mission, his act of sex with his wife is shown as a process of ventilation for all of his pent up feelings of aggression and insecurity. When he's done, it's not an act of love, but a job finished for him. He's no more a husband or a father, but a paranoid.

As expected, the technicians behind the camera have delivered top quality work. The photography, art direction and music are very reminiscent of the 70s period. The photography has to be distinctly commended: Kaminski avoids plain, static camera like a communicable disease and most of the shots are complex. The production design should have been back-bending. We see many cities: New York, Beirut, London, Paris... and it's not easy to recreate streets and buildings that take us back in time. Michael Kahn, Spielberg's long time collaborator is at his best, as he usually is - the editing is crisp and smooth and never left me feeling dragged or hurried.

The problem for me was with the dialogues. Where some of the dialogues were supposed to be introspective, I thought the writers wrote something cheesy or corny. Dialogues that were very crucial in establishing the character's moral dilemma were just mediocre. It's very important for those dialogues to have struck a chord in me to grasp the impact of terrorism on eroding a human soul; and unfortunately since they aren't good enough, the movie becomes another good thriller where undercover operatives hunt and kill and eventually they are hunted and killed. Tony Kushner and Eric Roth who wrote the movie based on a novel by George Jonas didn't construct some critical parts of the script which would have imparted an emotional tone.

The best segment of the movie comes somewhere near the middle of the running length. Avner visits the family of his source who provides him with the name and location of the targets at regular intervals. The interaction between Avner and his source is a showcase of character development - there is no breaking the ice; there is no estrangement. they both talk as if they were son and father who parted five years before. And later when Avner has a price tag on his head, his source reassures that no harm will come to him, like a father would say to his son. Now, that's typical Spielberg.

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