This past Christmas season saw two movies hit the theatres that could easily have been Stephen Spielberg productions—The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong. Both feature the kind of fantasy that he made his name with, and both are the kind of large epic style films that he has as deft touch with. Instead we were treated to the flip side of Spielberg—the serious filmmaker.
Munich is loosely based on the book Vengeance by Canadian journalist George Jonas and details the aftermath of the Black September terror raid at the 1972 Olympics in Munich in which eleven Israeli athletes were murdered. In retaliation, the Israeli government recruited a group of Mossad agents to track down and execute those responsible for the attack.
Eric Bana plays the head of the team of Mossad hit men, and for my money is the film’s tragic flaw. Bana has been given three shots at A-list stardom in the past couple of years—more than anyone else I can think of—and yet leaves virtually no impression on me as a viewer. I wanted to like him in The Hulk, but found his performance flat. I barely remember him in Troy even though he was second billed to Brad Pitt and now in Munich he, once again, fails to impress. As Avner, a former bodyguard of Golda Meir, we should believe that he is willing to do anything for his country, that he is an ideologue who is willing to break the law to get revenge, but also feel empathy for him. Unfortunately Bana just isn’t strong enough or interesting enough an actor to carry this kind of material.
Munich is a technically well-made film, although seems a bit flabby. Overlong at 164 minutes, the movie often feels like a grocery list of assassinations. One after the other people are stalked and blown up with very little variance in their modus operandi. Mid-way through I was dreading having to sit through all eleven killings. Luckily the movie is more than simply a revenge drama, and starts to take a different shape as Avner’s conscience gets the best of him. His moral wrestling match should be at the heart of the film, but unfortunately is a bit too obvious and in Bana’s hands doesn’t seem realistic.
Munich is an ambitious film that sags under its own weight.