Brokeback Munich

I’ve still not seen many of the best, or most-hyped, movies of the year, but over the last couple of weeks I did manage to see both Brokeback Mountain and Munich. Both were very good, but I have a clear favorite between the two, and it’s a leading contender for my #1 movie of 2005.

It isn’t Brokeback Mountain. I liked the movie, it looks fantastic, like all Ang Lee films, and it’s well-written and structured. But I had two problems with it, one minor, one major. The minor problem is that there isn’t enough balance in the story of how the two marriages dissolve. One minute we see Jake Gyllenhaal finally triumph over his father-in-law, which prompts a loving smile from Anne Hathaway (not Shakespeare’s wife, but the girl from The PrIncess Diaries), the next minute, the two can’t hardly speak to each other and Gyllenhaal’s hitting on both a rancher and the rancher’s wife. It feels like something got cut out that we needed to see. The major problem is that I just didn’t buy the love story. And that’s really what the movie needs to deliver to rise above a simple message film, in order for it to do something more than just tell me things I already know. It’s not necessarily the actors, bother Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger give excellent performances, it’s that there’s just a real lack of chemistry between the two. That, and the fact that I can’t understand why either character likes the other. I can understand it from just a physical attraction standpoint, but physical attraction isn’t enough to maintain a 20 year secret relationship. I didn’t really like either of the characters (I didn’t hate them either), but more importantly, I didn’t understand what they liked about each other. That could be the actor’s fault, it could be the script’s fault, or it could be the theatre’s fault, that I just couldn’t get into the movie with such a large, and noisy, audience. I’ll probably watch it again when it comes out on DVD though, we’ll see if my mind changes.

Munich I liked a lot. It works very well as a thriller, including one scene that’s textbook Hitchcockian suspense. But it also plays upon those thriller conventions to force the audience to think about violence and revenge and terrorism and war. It’s surprisingly mature for a Spielberg film, one where he does not seem o know the answers to the questions his film poses, unlike, well, every single other Spielberg film. That’s what makes it so different from a Saving Private Ryan. SPR tells you what to think and feel with every frame, Munich raises issues, allows both sides to argue reasonably and leaves the conclusion making to the audience. Eric Bana gives one of my very favorite performances of the year, and the rest of the cast (Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar on “Rome” and Mathieu Kassovitz (who was in Amélie) is very good as well.

This film is getting buried by the Brokeback Mountain hype. Which is what you’d expect. Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan did the same thing to The Thin Red Line a few years ago. Hype machines like movies that don’t make you think. The subtle Crouching Tiger lost to the noisy Gladiator. The subtle Thin Red Line lost to the noisy SPR. The subtle Munich will lose to the noisy BBM. Karma.

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