Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Ciarán Hinds, Hanns Zischler, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ayelet Zurer, Mathieu Amalric
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Why it made the list: Ask the average moviegoer to name a director, there’s probably only five or so that will always come up. George Lucas, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese (even if they’ve never seen any of the movies those last two have made), and maybe a Tim Burton, Michael Bay, and now Christopher Nolan. But the one director everyone knows is Steven Spielberg. Which is probably why many cinephiles are reticent to list him as one of their favourites. His fame is such that saying you love Spielberg films is like saying you love Coca-Cola. It says next to nothing about you.
Well, I love Spielberg films. (Also, my favourite beverage? Coke). While the last decade wasn’t as successful for Spielberg as the previous two, I still think it was pretty fruitful (besides his final film of the decade, which we will all pretend never happened in a few years). Munich was his best of the decade, a film that’s been underrated pretty much since the day it was released. A few posts ago, I mentioned that it’s baffling that Brokeback Mountain lost the 2005 Best Picture Oscar to Crash. Even more baffling is that Munich never had a shot at the award, and people were surprised when it managed to get nominated at all. It was rushed into theatres to just barely qualify for nomination, and significantly underperformed at the box office enough that it was merely an afterthought come awards season, and has since been largely ignored. Which goes to show that however controversial the idea of two cowboys in love with one another might be, it’s nothing in comparison to even coming close to criticizing the actions of Israel.
It’s certainly not without its flaws (flaws that are prototypically Spielbergian), but for my money, Munich is Spielberg’s Godfather – a patient examination of several years in the lives of its characters with enough story beats to fill several movies. The big moments and themes are operatic without eschewing realism, but while much of the struggle internal and dramatic, they’re parsed out between scenes of literally explosive energy. Because of the historical importance of the story, it tends to get lumped in with other Spielberg period dramas like Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, or Amistad, which I think tends to downplay just how exciting this film can be at times. This is an assassin film given epic scale, shot by one of the best action film directors of all-time. The subject matter may be serious, as is the treatment of it, but it’s also edge of your seat tension throughout.
Spoiler Specifics: How ridiculous is it that Steven effing Spielberg, director of Schindler’s List and founder of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, had to combat charges of antisemitism with the release of this film and decided it necessary to do an intro on the DVD where he makes clear that he’s not anti-Israel? It’s a reflection of the intense politics that surrounds any part of Israel/Palestine issue that a film that dares suggest there’s a human cost involved in Israel’s policy of retaliation or questions the general effectiveness of such attacks is seen as controversial. Especially since those who weren’t condemning the film for questioning Israel were criticizing it for its refusal to commit to either side of the debate.
Spielberg never comes out in support or condemnation of anything in the film, but rather points out how complicated even the seemingly simple issue of vengeance can become. Maybe Israel’s aggressive tactics are necessary in the face of enemies who want them wiped off the face of the earth, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a psychological toll for those implementing the aggressive tactics. That’s what Munich is interested in. Even if Avner and his crew are completely justified in their actions, it’s still not easy killing people at point blank range, with handguns or bombs. It’s still unnerving going from hunter to hunted. It’s still frustrating to realize that for every target you eliminate, two more rise up to take his place.
Significant scene: The best scene of the movie is probably the flashback to the final moments of the hostages as they go from the athlete’s village to the firefight at the airport. Unfortunately, the decision to intercut it with Avner having sex with his wife is probably the worst decision of the film. So instead I’ll go with the opening scene for this section, which captures the initial moments of Black September’s attack on the Israeli athlete’s villa in horrifying detail, and then transitions to the news coverage of the event the next day.
As one of the most significant news stories captured live of the past century, the archival news footage mixed in with Spielberg’s reenactments of the action has its own undeniable power. This is how a generation experienced the tragic event as it happened, and how later generations have had it presented to them, with Jim McKay, Howard Cosell, Peter Jennings, et al broadcasting the events as they happened into the living rooms around the world and, of course, the TV screen of the attackers who used it to gather intelligence on potential rescue attempts. In filtering the experience through the media of the time, Spielberg not only uses viewers’ own associations of the event for immediate emotional impact, he also uses the events of 1972 to parallel the more recent terrorist attacks of 2001, also experienced by most of the world through the media (making it his second 2005 film with strong 9/11 parallels). Over three decades later, and we’re still dealing with the same struggles, the same hatreds, and the same media penchant for instant reaction on stories they are only beginning to understand. Munich isn’t just a document of a horrible moment of our past, it’s a vital examination of the defining struggle of our generation.
25. Up (2009)
24. The Hurt Locker (2009)
23. Lost in Translation (2003)
22. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
21. The Bourne Identity (2002)
20. Serenity (2005)
19. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
18. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
17. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
16. Hot Fuzz (2007)