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Golden Mug

WINNER: Score (John Williams)
NOMINEE: Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski)

Theatrical Release Date: 12/23/2005
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Ayelet Zorer

Lurching its way into movie theaters Christmas weekend was Steven Spielberg’s latest “Throw more awards at me” film, “Munich”. He has taken a great deal of abuse from both Palestinian and Israeli groups over the film’s subject matter.

I’m going to avoid casting aspersions to either side of the Arab/Jew conflict in the Middle East but want to make it clear that this film is more about the consequences of using violence to punish previous violent acts, than it is about which side is right.

It would have been very easy to use this movie to simply show Black September as terrorist thugs and the alleged Israeli response as a righteous act. Spielberg did not make it that clear cut though, and that is something for which I think he isn’t being given due credit.

In the film, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, played nicely by Lynn Cohen, green lights the use of an “unsanctioned” hit squad to assassinate the people involved in planning the 1972 Munich Olympic killings.

Geoffrey Rush plays the team’s Mossad handler and Eric Bana is chosen to coordinate and lead the assassinations. Both actors are excellent, as they always are. Though as it is the lead role, Bana gets to strut his stuff a bit more than Rush.

Tagging along in the group is the new 007, Daniel Craig, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, and Ciarán Hinds. Michael Lonsdale plays a vital source of information for the group as they try to locate their targets and the beautiful and talented Ayelet Zorer plays Bana’s wife.

All that name listing aside, as with most Spielberg films, the acting is first rate. While I have a few friends who thought Craig may have been miscast as far as appearances go, his performance is excellent as are all of the others’.

Spielberg used his usual suspects behind the scenes as well to bring about another quality film; most notably cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams. All three elements are superb and I hope Kaminski gets another Oscar nomination for his work here.

But I do have two major problems with the film. First, it is WAY too long. I have watched the entire 10 hour “Band of Brothers” miniseries in its entirety a couple of times now, and each time felt shorter than this film. I found myself a bit bored and wishing they would move along a bit quicker at a few points during the film.

Also, Spielberg still can’t seem to end a film. Do a shot each time you think the movie is ending and grab a cab home, because you’re over the limit, buddy.

Aside from those negatives, the film is a finely crafted one and as I alluded to at the beginning of the review, neither side of the issue is presented as the clear moral superior. Sure, as the film’s central characters are Israeli Jews, the film boils down to them avenging the actions of Black September in Munich.

However, along the way the group crosses paths with a PLO member and his equally fervent beliefs are expressed. Also, some members of the team question the morality of their work as their own actions begin to cause ripples just as devastating as those created at the ’72 Olympics.

Of particular interest to American audiences is the closing shot of the film. I’m not really giving anything away here so don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. But as the camera pans across 1973 New York city (see, I’m not telling you why the film ends here), the World Trade Center twin towers are smack dab in the middle of the screen, framed for the audience to notice.

This really resonated with me. Like everyone else who sat in front of a TV for a few weeks, watching the same footage of planes crashing into the towers and their subsequent collapse, this event is a touchstone. As I’m not old enough to remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK or MLK, 9/11 is that galvanizing event that will remain with me until I die … or get Alzheimer’s.

What was I saying? Oh yeah.

I think in showing us this shot at the end, Spielberg was reinforcing his central theme: violence begets more violence. Agree or disagree, boring or not, this film creates a discussion. The use of retaliatory violence against terrorist acts isn’t a simple matter. This film tries to get people to think about the ramifications of their actions. In that, “Munich” is a success.

Even with the excess running time and multiple ending syndrome, “Munich” garners a 4 out of 5 from me. Everything is first rate; I just think it could have been done about 45 minutes faster. And I’m actually a little disappointed at the seeming lack of “people looking” shots that I credit as Spielberg’s trademark camera shot. There were a few, but over a three hour span, I expected more.

So by all means, this is a worthy film to see. But I don’t think you need to spend $10 for a ticket, $5 for parking, $20 for concessions and $200 for that after hours massage to help you sleep tonight. Wait for video on this one. Especially if your couch is more comfortable than the seats at your local film emporium.