NYT gives positive review to Speilberg's Munich

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WITH his latest film, "Munich," Steven Spielberg forgoes the emotional bullying and pop thrills that come so easily to him to tell the story of a campaign of vengeance that Israel purportedly brought against Palestinian terrorists in the wake of the 1972 Olympics. An unsparingly brutal look at two peoples all but drowning in a sea of their own blood, "Munich" is by far the toughest film of the director's career and the most anguished. Mr. Spielberg has been pummeling audiences with his virtuosity for nearly as long as he has been making movies; now, he tenders an invitation to a discussion.

The film's title suggests that this is the story of what happened at Munich in September 1972, and it is, though only in part. Most of the action - and if nothing else, this nail-biter is a full-on action movie - takes place in the immediate aftermath of Munich, after 11 Israeli hostages were murdered by members of a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September. Based on George Jonas's disputed book "Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team," and adapted to the screen by the oddball couple of Eric Roth and Tony Kushner ("Forrest Gump" meets "Angels in America"), the film pivots on five Israeli agents, who, recruited to exact revenge by a country that will officially deny their existence, zigzag Europe as they hunt suspects over months and then years.

As his tours of duty with the historian Stephen Ambrose suggested ("Saving Private Ryan," "Band of Brothers"), Mr. Spielberg can give the appearance of wanting to be seen as more than just a Hollywood director, particularly since he added "adult contemporary" to his playlist, mixing history in with his dinosaurs. That makes him a soft target, and "Munich" has already been strafed by op-ed attacks. The accusations might make sense if the filmmaker took us into the terrorists' homes for some moral relativism. But Mr. Spielberg is doing nothing more radical here than advancing the idea that dialogue ends when two enemies, held hostage by dusty history and hot blood, have their hands locked around each other's throats. You can't hold your children with your hands so occupied, though evidently you can send them off to war.

It would do a disservice to Mr. Spielberg to linger too long on the pre-emptive attacks on the film: more than anything, "Munich" is a slammin' entertainment filled with dazzling set pieces and geometric camerawork. Different palettes help keep the narrative flowing (there's no danger of becoming lost on the way from Frankfurt to Cyprus), imparting a contrasting vibe to each landscape: the bleached-out Israeli exteriors are as faded as old family photographs, while the verdant French countryside where Avner meets a mysterious intelligence broker called Papa (Michael Lonsdale) has the seductive tug of an idyll. This pocket of green and Old World civility, embellished from Mr. Jonas's book, is the film's shrewdest and most entertaining conceit: a movie within a movie, it is a vision of evil as both seductive romance and bureaucratic banality.

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