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Munich certainly makes you think

Munich certainly makes you think; it might be about the silly continuity error of a man spectacularly falling dead on his chest crushing a large bag of his shopping, in the lift lobby of his apartment block, seen a moment later lying flat on his back. The odd thing is, there is no need at all for the second shot. This thought might keep bothering you for a while, until it is disturbed by one of the many unguarded conversations that various undercover groups have in very public places, ranging from cafes to streets to seaside promenades. Their operations are meant to be clandestine, but waiters and passers by could easily hear the contents, never mind anyone actually trying to listen in.

These are instances of careless filmmaking, which tend to undermine our overall confidence in the filmmakers. Already alerted at the start that the film is 'inspired' by real events, we never know how much is inspired writing and how much is real event. This isn't material, after all, with which the average citizen is intimately familiar. And these flaws are not what we should be thinking about. Maybe we should be thinking about how a smarter Israel would have captured, not killed, its terrorist targets, and paraded them on worldwide TV, showing their mercy - and thus their moral difference.

The film is, all the same, full of interest, especially the depiction of a hazy world of espionage so well articulated by the members of the family whose urbane Louis (a wonderful performance by Mathieu Amalric) is a key source of information on the whereabouts of the Palestinian targets of the Israeli assassination squad. Louis' Papa (another superb characterisation by Michael Lonsdale) articulates all the complexities and aberrations of this shadowy world, where their lives intersect at the most obtuse angles.

At the centre of it all is Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) and here is more food for thought. Why did Steven Spielberg cast Australians Bana as a Mossad agent and Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim, his Case Officer? The subject matter is so culturally intense, it begs for culturally specific casting. Is it that Australian actors are easy to work with and speak fluent English, acquiring accents at will? Not always convincingly in this case. Or is there some profound rationale ... like marquee value in America? (Lior Ashkenazi comes to mind for instance, a top Israeli actor; coincidentally, he stars as a Mossad agent in Eytan Fox's excellent film, Walk On Water.)

It's hard to tell with a film that shows Spielberg at his most earnest and intense, yet without a sense of dramatic purpose. The editorial purpose is clear enough: does revenge killing Palestinian terrorists advance the cause of peace, or even of Israel itself, asks the film, before answering a resounding 'NO'. But Munich, while engaging for the most part, seems far too long. And if it seems too long, the filmmakers haven't succeeded in keeping us focused.

For those really interested in the subject, I recommend Kevin McDonald's outstanding Oscar winning documentary, One Day in September (2000), for a factual and fascinating account of the event itself, with an exceptional interview with the only surviving Palestinian involved.. (World Movies screens it again on the day Munich opens in Australia; January 26 at 9.40am and 11.25pm)
Andrew Urban


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