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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Munich (Regular & Collector's Editions)
Munich (Regular & Collector's Editions)
Dreamworks // Unrated // May 9, 2006
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted May 8, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:



Director Steven Spielberg jumped right from "War of the Worlds" to this epic thriller revolving around the events that took place after 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. The picture is based upon the book, "Vengance", by George Jonas, and is "inspired by" the events. The opening moments of Spielberg's film recreates (with some archive footage) moments of the events that occured (the documentary "One Day in September" takes a detailed look at the events in Munich) and then follows the response from Israel, with flashbacks to the events in Munch seen at points throughout the movie. Not long after, Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) calls for the creation of a secret squad who will find and kill the 11 Palestinians responsible for the murders in Munich.

The majority of the film follows this squad - lead by one of Meir's most respected former bodyguards, Avner (Eric Bana) - as they plot their retribution. The other members of the squad include: Steve (Daniel Craig, the next 007), Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz, "Amelie", director of "La Haine"), Hans (Hanns Zischler) and Carl (Ciaran Hinds). Each of the group has specific skills that will be needed, but none of them have any experience as assassins. The group is assigned a handler named Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), who informs them they're to be funded by a fund that doesn't exist (and technically, neither will they after accepting the task.) Despite a wife that is not far from giving birth, Avner accepts the mission and sets out to establish contacts to get information.

After visiting an informant, the team goes across the globe, hunting down their targets one-by-one. However, things go wrong (in one incredibly tense sequence, a target is not home and his young daughter unexpectedly is, requiring a quick abort of the mission) and, for each of the assassinations, there is retribution by the Palestinians as the cycle of violence continues with no apparent end in sight. Additionally, the targets that the team does get are replaced by another, potentially more dangerous one. Eventually, the team finds itself becoming hunted as well, leading Avner to become increasingly paranoid as he gets in deeper and deeper. Should he trust his contacts? The picture works best in the second half, as Spielberg continually builds a feeling of isolation and paranoia.

While "War of the Worlds" was likely Spielberg's most visually flashy picture yet, "Munich" is one of his most technically accomplished. The fantastically gritty and ground-level cinematography by usual collaborator Janusz Kaminski is one of the best elements of the nearly 3-hour picture. Production design, costume and other departments do remarkable work for a production on such a tight schedule. The result is a movie that boasts strong mood and atmosphere.

As for the length of the film, while it could certainly have been edited down to a tighter 150-minute length (or even a bit shorter), I didn't feel that any section of the film dragged noticably. Making the picture a more streamlined affair would have carried the tension that some sections built a bit further throughout the picture. The film's several action sequences are so suspenseful as to be riveting, with Spielberg slowly building towards the events, creating a sense of foreboding. The film's locations (filming took place in Paris, Hungary, New York City and elsewhere) are also quite stunning, as well.

The film's lead performance also worked well for me, as I found Bana to be very good in the role of Avner. The actor's portrayal of a man gradually coming apart due to guilt and paranoia is convincing and often quite powerful. Craig, Rush, Kassovitz, Hinds and others provide expert supporting performances, also.

"Munich" will likely divide audiences; it's a bleak, grim picture and those who are not involved with its story early will find that they have a long sit ahead of them. Personally, while I didn't think the picture was without some issues (I didn't find that the film dragged, but some tightening would have helped keep the tension up) I found it to be a tense, somber and haunting political drama/thriller that offered strong performances.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Munich" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Aside from a brief intro by Spielberg, the movie has the disc to itself, which gives the nearly 3-hour epic some breathing room on the disc. The resulting image quality is largely excellent, aside from a couple of very slight issues. Sharpness and detail are quite good, as the picture appeared well-defined throughout the majority of the film.

The presentation does have a few moments where light edge enhancement shows up, but it didn't cause that much irritation. Otherwise, the film looked crisp and clean, with no print flaws, pixelation or other issues. Colors appeared intentionally subdued and looked accurately presented. Black level remained strong, while flesh tones always seemed natural. Overall, an excellent presentation of the film.

SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound designer is Ben Burtt (both the original and recent "Star Wars" trilogies) and while there are many dialogue-driven stretches of the picture, there are also quite a few stretches of the picture that open up the audio superbly. The action sequences put the surrounds to superb use to place sound effects (gunfire, etc.) and light ambience around the viewer. During the more intense sequences, it's impressive how much "depth" the audio seems to have, as well, resulting in a greater feeling of envelopment in the scene. Audio quality is terrific throughout, with crisp dialogue, clear effects and a rich-sounding John Williams score.

EXTRAS: The single disc edition only contains a brief introduction by director Steven Spielberg, where he discusses his feelings on the film and what he was trying to accomplish.

The supplements on the second disc of the 2-DVD Collector's Edition offer some insights into the production, but they really do not go into the kind of depth (Spielberg filmed the movie on an extremely quick schedule, given the size of the production - I'd have loved to have seen an hour-long doc on that) that one would expect for this kind of film. Additionally, there's really not much about the history behind the film, as the supplements mainly focus on the production. The first featurette is "The Men: The Mission", which offers some notes about the development of the script, the main characters (interestingly, Spielberg first thought about possibly casting Bana when he saw him in "The Hulk") and the experiences that the actors had working with one another.

"Memories of the Event" is an 8-minute featurette that has Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (as well as others from the film) discussing the details and their memories of what happened at Munich. "Portrait of an Era" is a 13-minute look at the production's attempts to recreate the era in terms of everything from specific locations to clothing.

"On-Set Experience" essentially provides a brief 14-minute look at the director's quick schedule and how he approached shooting scenes largely on-the-fly, without storyboarding. "The International Cast" is a 12-minute look at gathering the varied cast and creating characters. Finally, "Editing, Sound and Music" is a too-brief 12-minute look at the film's rapid post-production.

Final Thoughts: Spielberg's best film in many years, "Munich" is a technically stellar, powerful and well-acted political drama/thriller that doesn't have the answers, but intends to start a dialogue on the issues within. The DVD edition offers strong audio/video quality, but little in the way of supplements. The additional supplements on the 2-DVD edition provide a few insights into the production, but definitely don't into the kind of detail on the history or the production that they should. Fans of the film should pick up the cheaper single disc edition, while those who haven't seen the film yet and are interested should definitely rent it.

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