Based on the George Jonas’ novel Vengeance, Steven Spielberg’s 2005 drama Munich centers on a covert hit squad that was commissioned by the Israeli government to assassinate the 11 individuals suspected of planning the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
Leading the group is Avner Kaufmann (Eric Bana), a Mossad agent named handpicked by Israel Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) to lead the team. The diverse group includes a driven South African mercenary named Steve (Daniel Craig); Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a Belgian toy maker who also makes bombs, an expert forger named Hans (Hanns Zischler) and Carl (Ciaran Hinds), the person responsible for making sure the targets are clean and collateral damage will not become an issue. Despite the denial of their existence by the Israeli government, Avner occasionally reports to a hard line official named Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush).
For a while, the mission is a success as one by one, the targets are found and taken out. But as the “assignment” progresses, so does the fallout. Retaliation attacks begin to mount, while the moral ramifications of the operation begin to take its toll on Avner and his team.
Much like JFK, Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper and Selma, Munich was a film that came under attack upon its theatrical release. Jonas’ novel was dismissed as inaccurate; Palestinians protested that the story was too one-sided (what the hell were they expecting?) while members of the Israeli government outright condemned the film. They said Spielberg’s film not only distorted the facts, it also equated their actions with those of the terrorists’.
Does Munich “distort” some of the facts? Being that had no access to the classified Israeli government files on the real-life operation, Spielberg and screenwriters Eric Roth and Tony Kushner had no option but to use dramatic license to fill in the blanks. Even if they were given full access to government files, characters and events would have still been modified or changed completely for the sake of dramatic narrative. That’s what happens when one makes a fictional drama and not a documentary.
Does it take a side? Yes, there is: one of anti-terrorism. Roth and Kushner’s thoughtful, multi-layered screenplay goes out of its way to condemn not only the act of committing terror, but also to examine the unintended consequences associated with exacting revenge. There are no real heroes in Munich, only victims of a cycle of violence that will never cease unless someone on the outside peacefully intervenes.
Whatever questions there may be in regards to historical accuracy and bias, one thing is certain: Munich is Steven Spielberg’s best directorial work since Schindler’s List. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Saving Private Ryan, but sandwiched between two incredible acts of that film is one that contains the ghost of several thousand-war movie clichés. With the exception of a really bizarre sex scene near the end of the film, Spielberg’s work on Munich is low-key and focused, which allows the strength of Tony Kushner and Eric Roth’s screenplay and the excellent performances of its ensemble cast to take center stage. His vivid recreation of the Munich Olympics massacre and Hitchcockian staging of the hit squad’s assassinations are reminiscent of the gritty thrillers made by the likes of Costa-Gavras, Alan J. Pakula and William Friedkin in the late 1960s and ’70s.
Munich is considered one of Spielberg’s lesser directorial efforts, but to this reviewer it is anything but. It’s not neat and tidy. It’s a grim, uncompromising and engrossing thriller that hopes to stir a dialogue among its viewers. It’s also one that reminds us in its final, haunting image that those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
The High Definition Presentation
While Universal Home Video has had a spotty record when it comes to their catalog titles on Blu-ray, the studio has done a terrific job with the release of Munich. The AVC-encoded transfer beautifully captures the tricky cinematography put forth by Janusz Kaminski. Black levels are deep, picture detail is excellent and a fine level of film grain is present throughout. The image is free of edge enhancement, digital noise reduction and artifacts. The excellent picture transfer is supported by an immersive 5.1 DTS HD-MA audio track. Center channel dialogue is as clear as a bell; the stereo and surrounds come to vivid life when needed, as does the LFE channel.
Beyond the Presentation
Outside of the commemorative book that came with the limited edition 2-DVD set from 2006, the Blu-ray of Munich carries over all of that edition’s supplemental material. Totaling a little over 80 minutes, the extras feature some insightful interviews with the cast and crew. The supplements are presented in standard definition 4×3, which actually looked pretty good given the format it was shot in.
- Introduction by Steven Spielberg (4:30)
- The Mission, The Team (13:10)
- Memories of the Event (8:36)
- Portrait of an Era (13:17)
- The On-Set Experience (14:24)
- The International Cast (12:14)
- Editing, Sound and Music (12:23)
My favorite film of 2005, Munich sees Steven Spielberg working at the top of his game. An intense, moving and engrossing experience reminiscent of the 1970s espionage thrillers film fans love so much, Munich is a film that stays with you long after it is over. Universal Home Video’s blu-ray presentation offers up an excellent video and audio presentation and a decent selection of supplements. For fans of the film, this release comes highly recommended.
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