Thursday, 30 November 2006

DVD: Munich

Lowdown: If there is anything we can learn from the way the Israeli - Palestinian conflict has been going on, the war on terror is already lost if we keep on waging it the way we have been.
Since 11/9/2001 Spielberg has directed two films discussing the event. The first was about a faceless enemy materializing out of the blue in the middle of New York and killing people left and right, and it showed how society fell apart the minute this new menace popped up. Eventually, though, the faceless enemy was destroyed from within by yet another faceless menace.
That film was called War of the Worlds, and amongst others it tried to show us the truly important values we need to hold on to in this fight we're waging against the faceless enemy terrorizing us.
And now it's time for me to discuss Spielberg's second attempt at this subject, Munich. This is actually the second time I am discussing the film, although this time it's the DVD I am reviewing and this time I am doing it in a more systematic way.
Munich tells us the story of what took place when the Israeli government tried to react to the murder of its athletes and officials at the Munich Olympic Games back in 1972. The true account was never released to the public, but it is common knowledge by now that the Israeli government sent out assassins to kill the perpetrators of those killings, sending killers to kill the killers. We follow Eric Bana as he is assigned with the task of leading a diverse group of characters on this search and destroy mission. Things start out nicely with Bana being optimistic about achieving the goals of the mission and releasing the world from the presence of the evil terrorists, but as the film goes along and as Bana & Co kill more and more Palestinians they learn that they are more similar to the Palestinians than they would like to think they are; and later on they also discover that they are losing whatever it is they thought makes them better than their enemies, until they lose most of their humanity.
Throughout the film, Spielberg leaves us with no doubt about his true intentions: not to recreate history and tell us what went on after the Munich events, but rather make us think on how the current war on terror is going and where it is that we're heading for with it. Basically, he's saying that if we will fight force with force we will only up the ante until both sides fall on their knees - just like the Israelis and the Palestinians are at the moment, and just the way both of them seem to drag the entire world down with them. Instead, he suggests we try and get closer to our perceived enemies, establish a dialog with them and understand where they come from; after all, they are much more similar to us than we would like to think.
As usual for Spielberg, he uses every mean available to him to make his point as loud and as clear as possible. In the case of Munich, the emphasis is on authenticity. For a start, the cast is full of authentic figures, with both Israelis and Palestinians portrayed mainly through leading Israeli and Palestinian actors. Although the language is English when the main characters are talking, some Arab and Hebrew dialog takes place during the recreation of the actual Munich killings, and otherwise the characters do a fine job maintaining Israeli / Arab accents; I was quite surprised by how Eric Bana's English sounds a lot like my own.
The sets are a magnificent effort at authenticity: Tel Aviv's beach front truly looks the way it had looked back in the early Seventies, if memory serves me right, and so does the Tel Aviv airport. Cars and shops look authentic, and even the haircuts look real: Bana's haircut is a lot like my father's in the photos where he's holding me as a baby. And for some particular reason, the unit tag on the shoulder of the Israeli Chief of Staff is actually the tag of my old army unit; don't ask me why, it has nothing to do with the Chief of Staff's actual unit, but it is a real Israeli army tag. And last, but not least, the events portrayed in the film are fairly loyal to the way things really were: the way Israelis killed Arabs, the way Arabs retaliated by killing Israelis and Jews and others, and the way politics played a major part with the USA collaborating with both sides; you can argue that this is all quite similar to what is taking place today, with the USA waging war on Iraq, a nation that not that long ago it sold weapons to.
It all works very well; the point is well made and the film is quite thrilling. It is not, however, a perfect film. Towards the end it tends to stretch a little bit too much and suffer from what I refer to as the Apocalypse Now syndrome: a bit too long, a bit too hazy, a bit too arty. The process in which Bana loses himself to his quest is a bit too clumsily portrayed, probably in an attempt to avoid the film earlier part's bluntness. And the culmination of this process, with Bana having a weird sex scene while flashbacking to the most crucial moments of the Munich Massacre is, well, too surreal in my book.
Another drawback is Spielberg's "overdoing". He tries to outsmart us with cinematic tricks all along, and while it is nice at first it's a bit of a distraction later. For example, there is a scene where we watch Bana run after a car, and the camera pans to follow them; while panning, the camera goes inside a restaurant, and we don't see what takes place with Bana anymore, but it stops panning at a window where we just see a glimpse of Bana catching the car. Very arty, but not always the best way to tell the story.
What I like the most about the film is the cast. I am very famous for my admiration to Bana (it was Chopper that really got me into him). But the true gem of the film is Daniel Craig, the new James Bond; he is truly amazing as a ruthless guy whose motto is "don't fuck with the Jews".
Best scene: Bana and Co. meet a similar group of Palestinians, and Bana gets to see how similar they are to him. Eventually, Bana & Co kill them.
Picture quality: Cinematography work by Janusz Kaminski is up to his usual standard of excellence. The film is made to look like an authentic Seventies film would look like, and so it is fairly grainy and low on saturation; if you take that into account, the DVD features excellent picture quality with no noise or artifacts.
Sound quality: As with the rest of the film, the emphasis here is not on a bigger than life sound but rather on authenticity. Explosions sound like explosions, and bullets sound like bullets (spoken from true experience). A great job.
Overall: 4 stars looking upwards.

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