A dish best served cold
BACKSTAGE PASS - Lanz Leviste () - February 10, 2006 - 12:00am
Just like in the way Updike novels deconstructed the sunny-side-up Brady Bunch smiles of ‘70s suburbia and attacked the era’s celebration of sanguine post-Vietnam middle-class domesticity, Steven Spielberg’s Munich violently tears away the bellbottomed nostalgia to inform what may have been forgotten in this day and age of arbitrary terrorism. His dreamy sun-drenched aperture of Welcome Back, Kotter orangey sepia appears infrequently and intermittently, making way for a pulsating nightmare that attempts to illustrate counterterrorism at its very worst.

In a year when films of all worldly weight were labeled "courageous" that the adjective’s substance has been diluted into one of necessity instead of reward, Munich truly was one of the bravest, boldest feats of 2005, a grandiose, intelligent thriller whose dense kineticism is so disarmingly assured that its greatest asset is also its most magnificent flaw.

The events of what happened after the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, acts of revenge or, more diplomatically, counterterrorism, is not the issue to be discussed here. Historical accuracy when dealing with the fragile unknown is not a stipulation, especially with art; this is an interpretation that wants to be interpreted itself. What is most fascinating about Munich is the way it evaluates the human condition with one man, Avner (Eric Bana), trapped within the heated spotlight of a morality play; he is an agent hired to eliminate those involved with the murders Spielberg uses as a guinea pig for a tortured conscience. Working with a screenplay adapted from George Jonas’ much-debated book Vengeance by Eric Roth and the unbelievably brilliant Tony Kushner, whose two-part Angels in America is one of the greatest, most breathtaking masterpieces of modern theater, it is startling, though wholly invigorating, how Spielberg gives voice to the Palestinian cause. Volatile as the situation may be, he is able to present both sides of an issue that perhaps is nowhere near balanced.

It is a testament to Spielberg’s craft that at more than two-and-a-half-hours he is able to maintain the tension and excitement of an expertly done thriller; it is manic as intended, choreographed with realism and artful agitation through the always prolific lens of Janusz Kaminski.

When Munich fails, it does it with a determinedly gorgeous tumble: in the Spielberg’s unrestrained assault on themes very few filmmakers would dare try, his imagery sometimes fall victim to staunch idealism; he parallels Avner’s visceral sexual energy with the athletes’ murder, then leaves the World Trade Center dangling on the screen as a final shot. The message thus becomes as embarrassingly explicable as the way he conveys it.

But the timeliness of Munich further amplifies its aims of physiological affliction. Spielberg has fashioned a wrenching parable that is haunting and terrifying and superbly mesmeric; "Forget peace for now. We have to show them we’re strong," a steadfast Golda Meir decides, and before your mind returns to the screen, it would have to first delicately pick apart the true meaning that incendiary statement.

Grade: A-
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For comments, e-mail me at lanz_ys@yahoo.com.

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