Munich (15)

ANDREW CLARKE Munich - the story of the Israel's reprisals following the murder of members of their 1972 Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists is one of the most visceral, thought-provoking films for a very long while.


Munich - the story of the Israel's reprisals following the murder of members of their 1972 Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists is one of the most visceral, thought-provoking films for a very long while.

It's a tour-de-force from Spielberg, the man who gave us Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, and despite the fact it is about vengeance and brutal retaliation, it is very much a plea for tolerance and understanding.

Certainly it does a lot to remind everyone that, despite all the peace initiatives during the last 30 years, not a lot has changed in the Middle East.

There are several sequences in the film where Spielberg makes the point that despite what has happened to the Jews throughout history that is not an excuse for them to practise terrorism themselves. In simple terms: two wrongs don't make a right and perhaps its time for the eye-for-an-eye mentality to stop.

Towards the end of the movie Avner, a disillusioned ex-Mossad agent, tells his former boss Ephraim that they need to sit down and talk with the Palestinians before the situation can be resolved. Avner has stared into the eyes of the Palestinians. He has seen them at home with their wives and families. He has seen them playing with their children. He spoken with them and then had to kill them in a cold, calculating manner.

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Haunted by acts he has committed and the sights he has seen, he has grown weary of the killing and blessed with a new baby daughter wants an end to the senseless slaughter and uncertainty about Israel's future.

Rarely has a mainstream movie from a Hollywood director been so timely or so well-argued. The look of the film is stunning.

Spielberg has flawless recreated mainland Europe in the 1970s where the bulk of the action takes place and has paced and constructed the film rather like a contemporary Day of the Jackal.

It's a film about hit men planning high level assassinations of people they are told are terrorists - what they find are scholars, authors, diplomats and only occasionally what looks like a cocky gunman. True terrorists are not always what they seem but to Avener's trained eye these aren't what he recognises as fanatical killers.

His boss, played with chilling detachment by Geoffrey Rush, has abandoned him in the field with a mission and a team of seemingly disparate hand-picked agents who have an odd combination of skills which when combined form them into a formidable hit squad.

Eric Bana is the young professional soldier, Mathieu Kassovitz is the Dutch toymaker who turns into a handy bomb-maker, Daniel Craig is the hot-head South African, Hanns Zischler is the forger and accountant while Ciaran Hinds is the cleaner, a stuffy looking businessman who pays meticulous attention to detail and makes sure that no incriminating evidence gets left at the scene of each assassination.

These individuals are now stateless. Abandoned in Frankfurt and then Paris they have to use their wits to track down 11 names on the Israeli hit list - 11 purported Palestinian terrorists - the people behind the Black September Gang who in turn were the people who masterminded the slaughter of the Olympic athletes. Eric Bana is is told to eliminate all those on it as a warning to the terrorists against repeating such a crime.

Disavowed by his own security and intelligence forces, Bana has to rely on the criminal underworld to track down the people on his list and this leads him to a shadowy French gun-runner called Louis - who fronts a multi-million dollar arms and information operation which is ultimately controlled by his father (Michael Lonsdale), a strangely principled former resistance fighter who will work for individuals but won't supply governments.

It's made clear early on that it doesn't really matter to the Israeli government whether these individuals are guilty of Munich or not - in their eyes they are guilty of Palestinian sympathies and possibly other terrorist acts that can't be proved. In any case what the Israeli's want to do is make a statement and that's what Spielberg takes real issue with.

In an early scene Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, is seen talking to her military officials and home security staff after the Olympic team have been gunned down in the botched rescue attempt at Munich airport. She has resisted covert operations in the past she says but cannot afford to let this atrocity go unpunished.

Spielberg infuses the film with a great deal of humanity. Cleverly, he keeps Bana in touch with his pregnant wife, who eventually gives birth to a daughter and his treasured home life contrasts greatly with the death and destruction that Bana is organising in Europe.

The performances add a lot to the tense, thriller-like atmosphere. There's not a duff role in the movie - Bana delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in a film that should walk off with the Best Picture Oscar - if only the voters could see their way past the controversy that is currently raging in the States.

A rich, provocative film which should have people thinking and talking for many months to come. Stunning.