d. Steven Spielberg / 2005 / USA / 164 mins
Viewed on: BBC1 (UK)
Okay Steven Spielberg, we get it already! You love Judaism (and aren’t too fond of those who don’t)! Jeez!
A few years before Quentin Tarantino unleashed his Inglourious Basterds, Spielberg was meting out cinematic revenge for a later attack on Judaism, the capture of Israeli athletes by Palestinian extremists during the 1972 Munich Olympics. But where Tarantino brought a healthy bout of fantasy to his film, Spielberg seems bound by the decision to tell the story more or less as it happened. Munich may essentially be an action film, but it’s a pretty dour one.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Munich for the most part. For Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski, the film was a return of sorts to the gritty, hyper-real visual style that saw him win an Oscar for Best Cinematography with Saving Private Ryan (1998) – a repeat of his win for his first Spielberg collaboration, Schindler’s List, five years earlier. The scene in which the assassins botch a hotel bombing – killing their target but almost taking Bana’s character as well – was as gripping visually as anything you’re likely to see in modern Hollywood cinema.
Admittedly, there are slight variations on the usual Spielberg tropes. His predisposition toward the heightened emotional manipulation of audiences is dialed down a little, with Eric Bana’s character placed in something that actually resembles a realistic emotional state. Worn down by years of espionage and killing, fearing for his safety and that of his family, he is left drained, paranoid and highly strung.
And yet, there is a pall hanging over the whole Munich experience. It is such a ‘serious’ film, that it often seems hard to enjoy the proceedings in a manner to which audiences have become accustomed over many years of Hollywood action cinema. It’s a serious topic, sure – and far be it from me to suggest that it should have been handled in a lighter manner – but throughout the film, there is a definite sense that Spielberg and co. are very much torn between their responsibilities as members of the Jewish faith, and their day-to-day existence as architects of bloated blockbuster movies.
If you want an action film, go rent Rambo. If you want to know about the brutal capture of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, do yourself a favour and seek out Kevin Macdonald’s One Day in September. One of the finest documentaries ever made, and – all in all – a vastly better film than Munich.