The Two Spielbergs 

Guess Which One Made Munich?

There are two Steven Spielbergs. There's the fun one—the guy who did Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park—and the serious one—the guy behind Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. One makes summer blockbusters; the other makes holiday Oscar winners. They both make kazillions of dollars.

It comes as little surprise that Munich—which deals with the terrorist attacks of the 1972 Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed, and its aftermath, in which an Israel-sanctioned group carried out vengeance against the perceived perpetrators—comes courtesy of Serious Spielberg, even though Fun Spielberg seems like he was just here. (Actually, he was: Fun Spielberg's War of the Worlds came out just six months ago, remember?) Needless to say, Munich has some pretty twitchy subject matter, but thankfully, Spielberg handles it nearly perfectly—not with any overt bias or a forced moral about what the events should tell us about ourselves. Instead, Spielberg simply offers a deft, straightforward re-enactment, focusing on people caught up in the rigid ideology of a fluid war.

All of this is pinned on Munich's main protagonist, Avner, played by Eric Bana (Troy, Hulk), who's been laboring in underappreciated roles for too long. Spielberg puts almost all of Munich's weight on Bana's shoulders, and Bana, with his cherubic visage and steely determination, handles the difficult character extraordinarily well. His performance, along with Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, Tony Kushner's script, and a strong supporting cast, epitomizes how much good stuff there is in Munich—so it's too bad the film's not as great as it could've been.

On its most basic level, Munich deals with the events that transpired after the '72 Olympics. But deeper, the film's about the lengths men will go to fulfill obligation, and the compromises they'll make to do what's asked of them. Those themes are dealt with so well in Munich that it's disappointing that it occasionally feels like Spielberg makes compromises of his own. As he's aged, Spielberg's grown more clumsily sentimental—rarely does he turn totally saccharine, but there are a few points in Munich that feel manufactured. It'd be par for Spielberg's course if the rest of the film wasn't so creepily organic; with a subtlety and determination he hasn't shown for years, Spielberg buckles down for most of Munich and makes it a powerful, disturbing, and emotional examination of violence, politics, and self.

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