Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I gotta say, "1941" was a lot funnier: "Munich"

Nothing wraps up your holiday like watching a recreation of the most awful event in Olympics history, huh?

My Better Half and I took in "Munich" on our Monday off, which was fortunate because the movie took almost all day to watch. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but not by much. Word has it that acclaimed director Steven Spielberg rushed this movie from editing room to the screen, and it kind of shows.

The movie starts with a riveting retelling of the hostage situation at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes. That spurs the creation of a hit squad to gain revenge by killing the people behind the massacre. Most of the movie follows that squad on its mission, which gets plenty messy -- more emotionally than physically.

As he did with another epic, "Saving Private Ryan," Spielberg does a great job sucking you in at the start. Blending recreation with real archival footage, he gives the hostage situation tremendous drama, and you have no problem believing that Golda Meir and other Israeli leaders will make someone pay for the slaughter. To that end, they draft Mossad agent Eric "Hulk" Bana to lead a crew of five people as they track down terrorists across Europe.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to the men keeping a clear conscience. As they (and we) find, a few of their targets are not overtly hateful men. Why, some of them even have kids! This leads to some pretty nice scenes, including a much-noted episode in which the undercover team shares a safehouse with a group of Palestinians, and their leader lectures Bana on why it's important to have a homeland.

Checking in at a hefty 2 hours and 44 minutes, "Munich" is quite simply too long, even for what some may consider a sprawling tale. A more taut thriller that still gave the obligatory moral message could have been made in the two-hour territory, especially since "Munich" starts to lose focus after two hours.

To that point, the flaws are minor. Most of the guys on Bana's team -- which includes Daniel "New James Bond" Craig and Ciaran "Julius Caesar" Hinds -- are decently developed and get their little soliloquys and scenes here and there. We also get some good assassination scenes, none of which come off smoothly, and a few intriguing supporting players, such as a Frenchman and his father who supply names for the squad and a Dutch woman who tempts Bana. And yes, we get some sympathy for the targets, which ultimately does a decent job of letting us know that nothing is clear-cut in this world.

The problems come when the squad's work starts to wind down and paranoia sets in for Bana. I guess it seemed a little overdone to me, and his emotional rollercoaster results in one of the more bizarre sex scenes/flashbacks I've seen on film. I won't ruin it for you, but the bottom line is that it didn't really work for me, this crazy juxtaposition of Bana in the bedroom and murder in Munich. Then again, maybe I just didn't get it. That's been known to happen.

In the end, "Munich" was good but far from perfect, and a little more care and a little less arty-farty might have been a better recipe. Seems there was some Oscar buzz before it came out, but I'm not sure it would even squeak into my top five. For instance, "Syriana" and "Capote" were better. And "Because of Winn-Dixie," of course.


At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. And speaking of the Rose Bowl, what an amazing game. The Longhorns are possibly one of the greatest teams in college football history.


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