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Syriana & Munich
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Review Date: 1

In his poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, William Carlos Williams tells us “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack of what is found there.”     Consider Syriana then, as a visual poem, and be prepared to get plenty of news from it. More news, in fact, than you’ll be able to assimilate in just one sitting. And more news than you’re ever likely to get from the pabulum dispensing newscasts on network TV.  Syriana is a brilliant film. Watch it in tandem with Munich.

Syriana opens with a wordless scene. And Munich closes with a wordless scene. The former speaks volumes about the roots of terrorism, middle-eastern style. And the latterpresages the consequences of middle-eastern poverty and despair.      It’s rare for two such important and worthy films to emerge almost simultaneously from an industry that seems to exist mostly to serve the libidinal fantasies of 14 year old males. These films were made for contemplative adults. Which is not to say they are devoid of “action”. There’s plenty of that, in both.    

Syriana weaves a handful of fast moving stories into one large and very complicated portrait of the pursuit, attainment and perpetuation of wealth. At the same time, in a quieter and more deliberate style, Syriana examines the flip side of the coin, a story that’s dark, tragic, predictable, and unpreventable. Corporate and governmental collusion on a global scale, shielded and protected by the illusion of a dispassionate legal system – that’s what Syriana is about. That and the equally ugly karmic response to greed run amok.

If the pursuit of oil is at the heart of Syriana, the pursuit of revenge is at the heart ofMunich. When terrorists killed members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team in Munich,Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, set about to track down and kill those responsible for planning the assault.    

The film Munich tells that story. It follows a five member team of agents as they crisscross Europe and the Middle East looking for their quarry. What seems at first a conventional tale of revenge, albeit, on an international scale, gradually morphs into a study of the psychological consequences of their mission. Nations may foot the bills for espionage, but the human beings who carry it out pay a dearer price. And Munich, to its credit, suggests the price is too high.          

While Munich is less ambitious in scale than Syriana, it is not less emotionally engaging. The leader of the Mossad team is an expectant father. The mind can encompass contradictions the heart is harder pressed to. Ultimately a man programmed to exercise state sponsored revenge must face its all too human consequences. Decisions must be made, and lived with. Munich pits righteous violence against the power of love. And it does so against a canvas of ancient enmities.      

and Munich deserve large audiences. I hope they get them.   

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.