Monday, March 7, 2011

2005 - Munich

Another awards season over. No major upsets at the Oscars this year and a relatively uneventful ceremony, save for Melissa Leo's expletive. I was glad to see The King's Speech as successful as it was, plus I managed to correctly predict 16 of the 24 categories, a fairly average result for me. If you would like a chuckle, here is the menu for the Oscars party I held this year.

I am back in New York City now after my month-long stint in Las Vegas, where I had an absolute blast performing with the Aussie Improv Comedy Explosion.

On Saturday, my darling wife Kat celebrated her 30th birthday. Her parents surprised her by flying in from Australia unannounced ... well, unannounced to her. After a delicious brunch, the four of us then trotted off to Broadway to judge just how well young Harry Potter can sing and dance. Daniel Radcliffe stars in the revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and, I'm pleased to say, he is a very impressive presence. His dancing is particularly extraordinary - he's right there with the ensemble as they perform their fancy Broadway choreography. The crowd's screams of delight were certainly warranted.

Recovering from a cold, I spent yesterday indoors watching movies, including another Best Picture contender from 2005...

Steven Spielberg
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
(based on the book Vengeance by George Jonas)
Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer, Geoffrey Rush, Gila Almagor, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
0 wins

After the horrific events at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped eleven Israeli athletes, later killing them, the Israeli government secretly organises an operation ostensibly to murder those responsible. In order to avoid having the assassinations traced back to them, they ask Mossad agent Avner Kaufman (Bana) to resign from the agency, allowing him to work independently of the government. Avner is given clandestine instruction by Israeli official Ephraim (Rush), who assigns him a team of half-trained covert officers - bomb expert Robert (Kassovitz), forger Hans (Zischler), driver Steve (Craig) and "cleaner" Carl (Hinds). With only scarce communication from Ephraim and aided by French source Louis (Amalric), the inexperienced assassins bumble their way through their assassination list, contemplating the ethical consequences of their actions along the way.

Munich is not your run-of-the-mill spy thriller. With such politically-charged themes, the picture also leans heavily towards psychological drama. In this way, director Steven Spielberg is able to do what he does best - focus on personal conflicts amidst a backdrop of international proportions. There is no denying the brilliance of Spielberg's film-making prowess, but, in this instance, he is almost too perfect. Some scenes feel over-rehearsed, especially an early scene in which Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir earnestly addresses her cabinet.

Where Spielberg's mastery works best, however, is during the suspenseful assassination scenes. Of particular note is the sequence in which the group aborts the detonation of a phone bomb when the target's young daughter unexpectedly answers the phone instead. Hitchcock would be proud.

The film's pace slows down considerably in the final act. The spy thriller elements that were so engaging throughout the earlier parts of the film give way to Spielberg's penchant for family themes. He focuses on Avner's paranoid internal struggle as he faces the fact that his actions may have grave consequences for his wife and newborn child. Clearly, this is the part of the movie to make you think. Although, having said that, there is plenty of political discourse throughout the spy portions of the film that will get the post-screening discussion moving, as well.

There are a variety of half-baked accents on display that are a little hard to take sometimes. Mind you, there's quite a diverse mix of nationalities amongst the actors, so it's difficult to tell whose accent is real and whose is not. I hate to pick on the Australians, but Eric Bana and Geoffrey Rush (both pictured) lead the assault on the Israeli dialect. Still, I suppose the blame would be more accurately placed on the contrivance that these characters would be speaking English to each other. Fortunately, these minor issues don't get in the way of the fine performances. The entire cast deliver superbly subtle and poignant portrayals. The standout is a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, who is strong and natural, and a little more successful in his attempt at the South African accent.


  1. I also scored 16 correct at this years Oscars, but I think we missed some different categories. That's is one very clever food menu you served. I'll throw in a few more: Big Micmacs, Animal Cracker Kingdom and Kick-Ass Chili. I guess the two non-nominees don't count.

    How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying was the first Broadway Play I ever saw. I think it was 1962 or 1963 and starred Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Charles Nelson Reilly and Michelle Lee. It was a high school field trip and I remember everyone singing "A Secretary is not a Toy" on the way home. Good musical.

    I have to admit that revisiting Munich left me a little less enthused than my original viewing back in 2005. I think you hit the nail on the head describing the team as bumbling. Their near ineptness and in-cohesion grated on me more. Spielberg also showed some inconsistencies. The telephone scene was as you pointed out, just outstanding. His craftsmanship is almost without peer, but I didn't care for the cross-cutting of the sex scene with the assassination. I also thought he was a bit too obvious at the conclusion, framing the twin towers behind Bana and Rush. I did, however, love Rush's line "Why cut my fingernails. They'll only grow back." I'm sounding more critical than I mean to. Munich remains a solid top ten film from 2005.

  2. Funnily enough, I actually found their ineptness endearing. The fact that they were so inexperienced made it all the more nerve-wracking. I particularly liked the subtle touch of Avner fumbling his gun the first time he pulled it out.

    I agree with you about the twin towers, though. That was probably unnecessary. Reminded me of the end of Gangs of New York.