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munich

Spartacus


Title:munich
Release Dates:Originaly Released 1970, Re-released 1997 by MGM-UA-Turner
Running Time:Original running time: 146 minutes
Formats: DVD, VHS
Rated:no original rating, rated PG in re-release
Starring:Cint Eastwood (Kelly), Telly Savalas (Big Joe), Donald Sutherland (Oddball), Don Rickles (CrapGame), Carrol O'Connor (The General)
Directed By:Brian Hutton
Produced By:
Written By:Troy Kennedy Martin
Reviewed By:jeff janoda    Buy it at Amazon.com

Time was when a war film got my loyalty for showing something I'd recognized in a book, like a sten gun. Youth has few stringent guidelines of taste. But even in that uncultured past, I saw something in Kelly's Heroes, a real enthusiasm for the Second World War era, but always tempered with an eye to the modern day sensibilities. Not, of course, our modern day. The film was made in 1970, and wasn't that the ballsiest move in the world for MGM and two guys called Katzka-Loeb Productions to do, coming off the Sixties in full glory, with flowers in rifle barrels?

The film is set in France, 1944, just west of Nancy, as a worn out squad of nobodies in green fatigues sarged along by Telly Savalas as Big Joe (the only good thing he ever did), and Clint Eastwood as Kelly reprising his silent lone gun role with a slightly warmer soul. To Clint's credit, he never tried to be anything else in the film, though even he gets one very funny line (his eyebrows did most of his acting). The squad goes behind enemy lines to rob a German-held French bank loaded with gold bars, and hilarity ensues, including the fact that their little heist's success has spurred the US army behind them to break a recent stalemate and charge after them. One really fake strafing scene by a very unwarlike looking aircraft early in the film was a rare blip in a film that seemed to pride itself on it's true grit.

Donald Sutherland as Oddball does a credible and sometimes really funny job of portraying a love child slash tank commander caught in some freaked out time warp. Don Rickles does his usual stuff, sneering at the world as the snakeoil quartermaster. A really good supporting cast was a big part of this film, with the actors apparently enjoying their roles (Carrol O'Connor did Archie Bunker in a uniform, I swear to God) and you can even spot the Love Boat captain, Gavin McCleod, in a small early role from that illustrious career.

There were a lot of good decisions made during the writing and making of the film (some guy called Troy Kennedy Martin wrote the screenplay and it was directed by Brian Hutton). It swings toward comedy, but never becomes clownish, and the action looked very real for such an early film, from an era when no one did real looking firefights on screen, though you can still catch a few dead guys draped over fences like laundry. Up close Thompson submachine gun and BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) work is shown, with little Hollywood glitz. The men fight like veterans trying to stay alive, and there is no patriotic fervor or hatred for the enemy shown, which might explain the popularity of the movie at the time, smack in the middle of the Vietnam torment.

The Tiger tanks look like Tiger tanks, and the Shermans look like Shermans. Somebody looked it up and put together three very realistic Tiger I's, all right angles and unsloped armor. Bits of warm, fuzzy tank lore are tossed out here and there and this made my young heart warm ("Tigers rev their engines every three-four hours..strictly routine......a Tiger is an open field tank; we have these trapped in a town.") There is a somewhat gratuitously violent scene when Oddball and his three Shermans kill a lot of confused and thrashing Germans at a train station behind the lines. Closeups of Gavin McCleod chomping a cigar and grinning as he mows them down with the hull .30 caliber provided a little moral edge, but most contemporary audiences forgave it. One of the grandest moments of the film is actually a linking scene, as the squad sits atop a berm in t-shirts under hot summer sun while Eastwood is off wangling a plan to lure the innocent GI's from their duty, against the stern conscience of Savalas. The Third Army advances below them along a long limestone road, dozens of tanks, trucks, jeeps and hundreds of extras plodding wearily along with slope arms, with enough dust and dirt to make it all seem like a picture of another time when the world turned its whole self to war. Well done.

The final battle between a solitary Sherman and three tigers is one of the best final showdowns ever made in a war movie. This must have drawn on eye witness accounts of such affairs. It always remained authentic, and never did I have to squirm in discomfort at what I knew to be totally fake...never was an enemy gun not fired for a stupidly long time, never did weapons that seemed trained in shoot yards wide of the target. Before the battle, Sutherland as Oddball makes a big thing about how busting a cap in the Tiger's ass is the only way to knock it out and the film is choreographed intelligently to exploit this bit of errata, with the final trapping and slaughter of two tigers believable and rousing.

The charm of the film comes to a true Sixties head in the ending, as Kelly and his men strike a deal with the Germans and split the take of the gold, with the awful gunfire and noise banished in the cheers of the local French thinking they have been liberated.

Well, I bought it. MGM-Turner re-released the film a couple years back, and it's out there to be had, though your average video store won't stock it. At just under two and a half hours in length, the film kept at least the one habit of many earlier war films, seeing two hours as no holy barrier. But in its use of period vehicles, equipment and tactics the film began a tradition that later successful war films all took note; the stuff has to look real, or we won't buy it. If we buy the gear, then we'll believe long sideburns and free love transferred to Occupied France, and it goes in that order.

Buy it at Amazon.com

 

Title:Munich
Release Dates:2005
Running Time:164 minutes
Formats:
Rated:R
Starring:Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Michael Lonsdale
Directed By:Steven Spielberg
Produced By:Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson
Written By:Tony Kushner, Eric Roth (From the book Vengeance by George Jonas)
Reviewed By:Burke G Sheppard

At the beginning of Munich, we see the words “Inspired by True Events” flashed up on the screen. The English translation of this phrase is “This movie refers to events that actually occurred, but the writers made changes for the sake of the story”. This is also known as artistic license, or damned lies, depending on one’s point of view.

The true events to which Steven Spielberg refers in Munich are the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September in 1972, and the subsequent assassination of those responsible for planning the atrocity by Israeli agents. Spielberg takes considerable artistic license with his tale, and the result is both disappointing and profoundly dishonest.

The basic problem with Munich is that it tries to be both propaganda and entertainment. Propaganda can succeed as art on occasion (Witness David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps), but Spielberg never quite pulls it off. Munich opens with a chilling depiction of the seizure of the Israeli hostages, and the announcement that they have been killed. After that, the artistic license, or whatever, quickly begins. When Golda Meir is briefed on the plan to track down and kill the men behind the attack, she says “This is just like Eichmann”, a statement that is probably artistic license on the part of Mr Spielberg, or perhaps radical playwright Tony Kushner, who helped with the screenplay. But Ms Meir approves the plan, musing that “Every civilization must negotiate compromises with its own values.” In fact, the Israelis have never seemed to have much problem with the idea of killing terrorists, so this line too, is probably... artistic license.

The Israelis assemble a team headed by a Mossad operative named Avner (Eric Bana), arrange cover and funding, and the hunt begins. For about the first hour and a half, Munich is a taut, well acted thriller. Spielberg uses all his considerable skills to stage suspenseful and at times startling action scenes as Avner and his men eliminate their targets one by one. But even here, artistic license comes into play, and we never see any of the targets actually involved in planning any terrorism, or even doing anything remotely unsympathetic. In fact, one of Avner’s crew (Ciaran Hinds) raises the possibility that the men may even be innocent. There is a bumbling quality to the Israeli’s efforts, with their bombs often malfunctioning, injuring or putting at risk innocent bystanders.

As the movie progresses, the focus shifts from the hunt for the terrorists to Avner’s crisis of conscience over being an assassin. Between assassinations, we get longer and longer scenes of the Israelis anguishing over whether or not they are doing the right thing. Hinds points out that they are breaking Israeli law because Israel has no death penalty. The groups bomb maker (Mathieu Kassovitz) worries about his soul and complains that Jews should be “righteous”. Avner, inexplicably, comes to believe that the Mossad may be planning to kill his family.

The second half of the movie is especially pretentious and tedious, with long scenes of Avner’s family life that don’t advance the plot, and with long debates over the morality of killing terrorists that seem out of place for Israelis in the 1970's. The tradecraft and technical errors become more glaring as well, with Spielberg inserting a ludicrous scene in which Israeli and Palestinian operatives find themselves booked into the same safe house. They spend the night disagreeing over which music to listen to and discussing the importance of having a homeland. In the movie’s single worst scene, Spielberg cuts back and forth endlessly between a long scene of Avner having sex with his wife, and Palestinian terrorists at Munich being gunned down by the German police.

The cast and performances in Munich are excellent. Eric Bana, who played Hector in Wolfgang Petersen’s magnificent Troy, delivers a good performance, but he’s hampered by the fact that the changes his character goes through don’t seem especially believable. He seems too restrained at times, or maybe the director just kept him on too tight a leash. Geoffrey Rush, as Avner’s Mossad case officer, is a delight to watch. So is Ciaran Hinds, who breathes life and genuine complexity into his conflicted Israeli spook. Daniel Craig, who will be the next James Bond, shows that he has what it takes to play a convincing killer. The best supporting performance comes from Michael Lonsdale, who plays a shadowy operative known as “Papa”. The character, who sells Avner the location of his targets, isn’t especially convincing (He says he won’t work governments, but where does he think Avner is getting $200,000 he’s paying for the location of each target?) But Lonsdale himself is so charismatic that you mostly forgive this.

Throughout Munich, Steven Spielberg maintains a careful facade of neutrality on the Israeli Palestinian dispute. At various times, characters make passionate speeches laying out the point of view of each side. But on one issue he is not neutral, and that is the current war on terror. Spielberg comes down firmly on the side of those who believe that terrorism should be treated as a crime deserving judicial punishment, not as an act of war. In the movie’s closing scene, Avner delivers an impassioned speech about how the Israelis should have arrested the terrorists instead of killing them, never produced any evidence that they were even guilty, and warns that “There is no peace at the end of this.” As he walks off, the camera lingers on a shot of the World Trade Center. Perhaps Spielberg meant this as commentary on how violence can threaten us all. But many in the audience may be left thinking that if only everyone had adopted the Israeli approach, shown zero tolerance for terrorists, hunted them down and killed them, wherever they could be found, then those towers might still be standing.

 



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