Tuesday, November 30, 2010
"Touch of Evil" is a true masterpiece of film, but with a couple of interesting flaws. The first is that it was drastically re cut by the studio, diluting Welles' original vision. The version presented here is the "reconstructed version, which was pieced together based on a long memo that Welles wrote to the studio after they had taken it out of his hands. Nevertheless it's a great film even if possibly a little short of what Welles originally intended. The other problem I've had with the film is that I never thought Charlton Heston was convincing as a Mexican. I do have to say however that after my most recent viewing I don't have as much of a problem with it. It makes sense when viewed in light of Quinlan's observations that Vargas "doesn't seem Mexican." His performance is good, and this time that was enough for me.
Based on the visual experience alone, this is a beautiful film. It's work with texture and shadows and character placement is brilliant. The congestion of characters and their separations all echoing the plot, giving it visual reinforcement. And yet, every character is caught in the same net. The black and white (which really give us mostly grey) suit the film perfectly as one of the major themes is the impossibility of living in absolutes. Conflict is everywhere, and nobody succeeds in communicating. The film deals with racial issues, sexual issues, authority issues. If there's a way to misunderstand another person it's in this film.
Putting aside the conflict between Vargas and Quinlan, we start with Vargas and his wife. This is a couple just married before the wedding night. While it's understood that Vargas has a position that requires him to possibly be on duty at all times, he's presented with a problem that he could easily wash his hands of and let the American authorities handle (as they would prefer it) It says much of Vargas, that he not only gets involved, but pushes to get involved, although only as an "observer" at first. He not only chooses his work over his wife, but he practically forgets her, sending her off alone in a town foreign to her, where a car bomb was just planted and he clearly has enemies. There is no choice involved for him. Vargas is the character who sees in black and white. He believes that he has the moral high ground, while not seeing the reckless neglect of his wife except as an afterthought. He eventually thinks to check on her, but not with any interest until she is placed in undeniably real danger. Up until then, he gives the bare minimum effort to keep her pacified. Susan sees this in her husband, and in some respects takes pride in his "authority" practically cheer leading for him when faced with "Uncle Joe." Nevertheless, she rightly feels jilted and tells him so quite directly just before Quinlan shows up to interrupt their kissing. Again he gives no thought to how she'll find or reach the hotel. Once he's in the car with Quinlan, proving himself superior takes precedence over his wife's safety. It's Menzies who steps in offering to take her to the Hotel.
Menzies is the closest character to a conscience in the film, and as such he's relatively quiet, content to be a supporting player to the more powerful personalities. He's good natured and honest but easily fooled, requiring absolute certainty before he can think badly of Quinlan. Menzies has seen the best of Quinlan as well as the worst. Quinlan is a man who took a bullet for him and taught him everything he knows. It's in no small part, thanks to Quinlan that Menzies thinks of himself as an honest cop who does things the right way. It's this belief that forces Menzies to help Vargas.
I think it's also quite intentional that Vargas the Mexican authority is the character arguing for "due process" while the American Quinlan makes his own rules, reversing the stereotypical behaviors of each culture, so that we can't dismiss the characters with those stereotypes. This isn't really a question of right and wrong. The only question is how difficult it is for people to agree on what the right thing is. Quinlan never takes Vargas seriously until Vargas becomes a threat to his career. Unlike the viewers, he can dismiss with the Mexican stereotype although this doesn't work out well for him. Quinlan delights in telling Vargas about procedures, when Vargas demands action on his wife's behalf. It's also the one point where Vargas doesn't care about "going by the book." And yet, the fact remains that Vargas is not required for the investigation and has no authority in it. He could easily attend to his wife himself, and his true interest is determined when he drops the issue with Quinlan.
When he finds his wife is in grave danger, he has himself primarily to blame. By that time he's essentially powerless, and only this bothers him enough to become irrational. He beats on several men at the bar, not because it's necessary to get information, but because he has no choice but to see himself as completely ineffective in his duty as a husband to keep his wife safe. However, even with his wife framed for murder and drugged in a prison cell, he can't abandon his vendetta against Quinlan, reasoning that he's pursuing justice. The Villain in the film "Uncle Joe" turns out to be powerless, except for the temptation he offers Quinlan. He only exists as a go between to accelerate the collision of Quinlan and Vargas. We see that he's terrified of the consequences of Vic throwing acid at Vargas, and Susan is more than capable of putting him in his place in person.
While Vargas appears to be the "hero" of the picture, he only exists to help us look at Quinlan. Welles' performance here is brilliant, the contradictory nature of the character comes through so solidly, that he becomes the character. Quinlan believes in justice as much or more than Vargas does, but he also believes that the system needs a little help to see that justice is done. He couldn't catch his wife's killer, so he has determined that he will catch every killer he can, no matter what. Despite his sloppy, lumbering appearance, he is a great detective. We question his accuracy when we learn about his evidence planting habits, and we question it again when we learn that his hunch about Sanchez was right. As Schwartz and Tanya establish, he's a great detective and a lousy cop. He is also similar to Vargas isn that both men love nothing more than their job. Rather than a wife, Quinlan keeps an addiction, booze first, which he replaces with candy bars. We see the sadness of his character in the brief first reunion with Tanya, their conversation, revealing how he misses who he used to be, before the years took their toll on him. It's well after this moment that Uncle Joe puts a frink in front him, and the man confronted with his reputation (the only thing he has) being ruined, and the reminder of his former self, is ready for drink, because that's what it takes for him to cross the line and become the thing he hates, a criminal and a murderer. Quinlan is doomed the moment he takes the drink, although it isn't until he finally realizes that Menzies is dead that it hits home. Quinlan calling out to his dead partner and friend is powerful moment. He's killed all that was worthwhile in himself and there's nothing to keep him going anymore.
At the end, we're left wondering what was accomplished, other than the fall of Quinlan. Nobody's hands are clean and everyone is damaged. Menzies, the conscience of the film is dead, the Vargas newlyweds will not enjoy their honeymoon, and Mike Vargas will have to live with his part in Menzies' death as well as Quinlan's, knowing that he was wrong and Sanchez was the murderer. He completely neglected his wife to complicate a situation that he would've been justified in leaving alone. He did catch a cop planting evidence, but was his focus worth what it cost? We get no clear answer, other than a bigger mess than we started with and people who will never be the same again. The world isn't black and white. Sometimes all of our speculation leads us right back where we started. People aren't that easy and neither are the reasons for what they do. As Tanya says in the brilliant closing:
"He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?"
An unknown person hastily places a crude bomb in the back of a car, as a man and woman approach it from another direction, getting in and driving down a busy downtown street where competing music blasts from various nightclubs. The car passes Ramon "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his new wife Susan (Janet Leigh) The newlyweds pass the car as it parks on the street a moment. The car starts moving again in roughly the same direction as the couple stop for a border crossing checkpoint to enter the US. They speak with the border guard. Susan tells them that she's an American citizen. They recognize Mr. Vargas by name, the guard asking if he's "on the trail of another dope ring." and announcing Vargas' presence to another guard. Vargas explains that he's only "on the trail of a chocolate soda" for his wife. They congratulate him on catching "Grandi" but Vargas downplays it by saying he only caught one member of a large family.
Friday, November 26, 2010
"The Mechanic"is a different twist on the "hit man's last job" movie, presenting Charles Bronson as solitary and stoic as ever, yet forced to realize he's aging and can't do what he once did. Rather than try to retire or get out of the business, he chooses to train someone else to thin his workload. At least that's how it appears on the surface.
Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is the best hit man or "mechanic" around. We see his meticulous methods right away, opening the movie with Bishop on the job. After learning his target's daily routine and securing an apartment with a window facing his target's window. He takes pictures of the man's apartment and scrutinizes his information at home for the perfect way to kill him. He breaks into the man's apartment and prepares it for the hit by placing a malleable explosive in a book in the man's bedroom rigging the gas oven to leak and drugging his tea. From the facing apartment, he watches the target drink his tea, and get drowsy, He waits until later that night, before shooting the book in the bedroom with a sniper rifle, causing a big and fatal explosion.
Bishop next meets with Harry McKenna, (Keenan Wynn) a longtime friend of his father. Harry explains the the Organization says that Harry broke "the agreement" and won't take his calls any longer. He would like Bishop to talk to them on his behalf. Bishop doesn't see what difference that will make, but Harry explains that the reverence they had for Bishop's father, might make them more agreeable. Over a drink, Harry reminds Bishop of a story about Harry, Bishop's father and Bishop as a boy on a fishing trip. Bishop had fallen overboard and couldn't swim, which prompted his father to say "he'll learn" not moving a muscle to help him. Harry recalls that he himself had to reach out and pull him back into the boat.
Harry: Your old man, he laughed like hell!
Bishop: That was a long time ago.
Their visit is interrupted by Harry's son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent) who shows up looking for money. Harry initially gives him a hard time before handing him the $1,000.00 he wants and Steve remarks, "My father gets uptight when I ask him for money he steals from other people." Harry apologizes for his son's manner and asks Bishop to call when he knows something.
Bishop gets a delivery which is the contract on Harry. He pins up all of Harry's personal information and plans out the hit. He scouts a remote beach location and tells Harry the Organization has asked him to meet there. When they arrive, Bishop drives up to a hill overlooking Harry on the beach. He takes shots at Harry from his hidden location and then acts as if he's discovered a sniper and is attempting to help Harry get away. Harry runs to the car, exhausted and Bishop approaches him gun in hand revealing his intention. Bishop then suffocates Harry in the car.
Bishop visits a girl (Jill Ireland) who role plays a rather mundane drama with him, playing his neglected girlfriend, including reading a letter she wrote, requiring him to comfort her. After they spend the night together, she announces that the letter was difficult and will cost him another hundred. He agrees, remarking that the letter was a good touch, recommending something like it for next time.
Bishop runs into Steve again at Harry's funeral. Steve isn't too bothered by his father's death, describing his father to Bishop as "Harry McKenna, fixer extraordinaire, pusher, pimp, thief, arsonist..." Bishop asks, "You liked him a lot?" Bishop tells Steve that Harry had worked for his father years ago. Steve realizes that this means Bishop's father was in the Organization and he asks Bishop if he's in himself, surmising that he is although Bishop tries to change the subject, reminding him to pay attention to the funeral. When Bishop remarks on Steve being sure of himself he responds "I live in my mind, Mr. Bishop."
Bishop: "Sounds like something I read someplace.
Steve: And so do you.
Bishop leaves the service and Steve asks him for a ride home. Bishop agrees and finds that Harry's (now Steve's) house is full of Steve's friends having a party. Wading through the crowd, Steve tells Bishop, "My father never really liked my friends, and I'm not so sure I do either." Steve gets a phone call from a girlfriend, Louise, threatening to kill herself. He asks Bishop if he'll come along to visit Louise. They find Louise with razor blades, preparing to slit her wrists. Steve makes a show of not caring and Louise cuts one of her wrists to prove she will, still getting no reaction from Steve or Bishop, other than Bishop telling her how long it will take her to die based on her weight. Louise insists that Steve will stop her before she dies, but Steve says "Listen, if you don't care anything about your life, then why should I?" Steve throws her some car keys and tells her she might live if she heads to the Sheriff's station in Malibu right away.
Discussing the situation, and the idea of watching someone die, Bishop he tells Steve "It just means you have your own rule book."
Steve: I can dig that.
Bishop: It takes a very special kind of person to pick up the tab for that kind of living. You say you dig it, but you're talking about something you really know nothing about.
Steve: And you do?
Bishop: Do I?
Bishop attends to his routines including martial arts, and knife throwing as well as talking a lot of pills. Visiting an aquarium he passes out, and wakes up in the hospital. The Doctor at the hospital recommends he see his own doctor, and says it sounds like he's experiencing "Acute Anxiety Reaction" adding that if it isn't that, he may want to try a psychiatrist.
He wakes up the next morning to find Steve parked outside his house. Steve is impressed with his place and Bishop explains he inherited a lot. Steve tries to convince him to let him in on his "action" Bishop takes Steve out in a plane, letting go of the controls and forcing Steve to take over, which he quickly does. At a bar later, Bishop explains that his father was a "Judge" who had the final word settling Organization disputes,until someone didn't like a decision and put a contract out on him, when Bishop was sill in school. Steve shares that his father never let him in on anything, although he wanted to know the business. Bishop lets him witness a karate match which turns pretty brutal. Steve remarks "He practically murdered that guy." and Bishop answers "Murder is only killing without a license and everybody kills, governments, the military, the police."
Steve: Do you think Yamato's a killer?
Bishop: He's a killer that doesn't kill. It's funny. No, for him, the rules are important.
Steve: That's your expert opinion?
Bishop: That's my opinion.
Steve points out that Bishop is being evasive about giving real answers. Bishop reminds him that he better be sure he wants the answers he's asking for. He asks Steve what he knows about the term "Mechanic" and Steve tells him it can be used as synonymous with hit man. Bishop reveals that's what he is and tells Steve that sometimes he could use a back up. Steve asks, "You do this for money?"
Bishop: Money is paid, but that's not the motive. It has to do with standing outside of it all, on your own.
He offers to teach Steve all he can, and confirming he's in, Steve says "You've got a partner Mr. Bishop." Bishop corrects him, "Associate."
Steve demonstrates an aptitude for the work and they start training for real. Going through a museum Bishop tells Steve "There are killers and there are killers, to tell you the truth they all have a different book of rules. To get away with it depends on the book of rules you have in your pocket at the time, your own country, somebody else's country, or your own personal book of rules. All this (waves at the museum figures) heroes, half of them are killers. Napoleon was one you know, Pancho Villa, Genghis Khan, and the we have our own domestic brand, like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and John Dillinger. Yeah, they're about as famous as our own honest to goodness heroes."
Bishop gets an assignment to kill three men, who are in the habit of riding around on dirtbikes, but live behind heavy security with constant guards on watch. Bishop includes Steve in the job, including the surveillance. Bishop surprises Steve by watching one of the men in a conversation via binoculars and reading their lips to discover a "Chicken Licken" truck set to arrive at the guarded compound for a delivery. Bishop finds vats of acid at a plating plant to dump the bodies afterwards. Steve and Bishop take the Chicken Licken truck and enter the compound. The hit is messy though and one of the men escapes forcing Bishop to chase the man on a dirtbike. Although the man ends up dead, the chase causes quite a commotion running through backyard parties and causing car accidents.
Bishop is called to meet with one of the Organization heads. He takes a plane to meet a chauffeured car which brings him to the estate. The man (Frank DeKova) is paining a leopard which he has tied in the yard. The man comments that the last job was very messy and asks about Harry McKenna's son and how he's involved in things. Bishop takes exception at the thought of having to ask permission. The man reminds him that there are rules in place which ensure the Organization survives, implying that Bishop has broken a rule.
He gives Bishop a new assignment saying it has to be done fast.
Bishop: I'll handle it the way I always do.
Man: There may not be time enough for that. The word is he's getting ready to talk to some people. The problem is considerable.
Bishop: I'm not some wild Cleveland shooter. I don't cowboy!
Man: If he talks, things could get complicated, sloppy. That would disturb a lot of us. It's not really open to discussion, Mr. Bishop. This business of McKenna's son has upset a few of our associates.
The man tells him that the target is in Naples, where they have him a room already.
Bishop gets home and heads to Steve's place. Finding Steve is out, he looks around and finds that Steve has taken a contract to kill him. He puts the papers back and goes home. When Steve shows up at Bishop's house later, he fills him in on the Naples job, telling him they want it "Cowboyed" He also tells Steve that he is nevertheless going to do it the way he's always done.
They head to Naples and start watching the target, discovering that the man is very unpredictable, rarely doing the same thing twice, with the exception of returning to his boat. Bishop shares a local wine with Steve, explaining that it doesn't travel well and they don't export it. He reminds Steve to savor it and the time he has. He also gives Steve advice about planning hits, telling him, "You've got to be dead sure, or dead." Bishop tells Steve he'll pick up some scuba gear and they'll use it to get on the boat undetected to kill the target. They succeed and Bishop plans an explosive before they leave. As they get off the boat, some Organization men show up after them in speedboats. They watch as the men get blown up with the boat. Steve asks who the men are and Bishop explains that they're Organization men, after him because he broke a rule by not asking them to start training him. More men show up soon, leading to a car chase. Bishop blows up a car chasing them and then sends an exploding car into a roadblock set for him, and pushes the last pursuing car off the mountain road with a bulldozer he finds on the side of the road.
Back at their room, Steve offers Bishop a glass of the local wine he likes. Steve watches with interest as Bishop has a sip. Bishop insects the glass himself suspiciously before picking up his bag to go, only to double over in pain. Steve says "Brucine! You'll be dead in a few minutes. Listen, you'll really appreciate this. This stuff is absolutely clear when it's in solution. I just coated the inside of the glass with it and let it dry. When the wine hit it it went right back into solution. No trace. Looks just like a heart attack." Bishop keeps struggling on the ground in agony. Steve continues "You said every man has his jelly spot. Yours was you just couldn't cut it alone."
Bishop: Was it because of your father?
Steve: You killed him? I thought he just died. You see? There you are. They told you who to hit. Kept the whole idea from being what we talked about. You needed a license, their license. I'm gonna pick my own mark, hit when I want. Just like you said, standing outside. See Naples and die."
Steve heads to Bishop's place, as if making it his own. He picks up the ball Bishop would squeeze to strengthen his fingers and then gets into his car and finds a note taped to his rear view mirror. We hear Bishop reading it to him " Steve, if you read this it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a thirteen second delay trigger. End of game. Bang, you're dead."
While "The Mechanic" could be accurately billed as an action film, it's a very thoughtful one, using the model of the hit man to ask some existential questions such as, what does it mean to "live outside?"The hit man is often used for questions like this. To it's credit the movie doesn't throw these questions at characters until we realize the questions suit them. The sub text is delivered beautifully suggesting the psychological scars of the lead characters, without putting the camera to them directly. Bronson's Bishop has many issues with family, relationships and society in general. We first hear his father mentioned when Harry describes the younger Bishop almost drowning. Harry remembers that the didn't cry or scream, just stared up at his father who didn't move a muscle to help. "That was a long time ago." Bishop answers to dismiss the story, but we wonder if Bishop has really put it behind him. He tells Steve that his father was a "judge." for the organization, and that he didn't talk about the Organization to him. When Steve compares their fathers suggesting that they were cowards, Bishop takes exception, claiming his father was "the best." He works for the Organization that his father helped build and has the same job as the man from Chicago who killed his father. When told he has to "cowboy" a hit, Bishop claims he's not a "wild Cleveland shooter." and we get a possible reason for his meticulous planning and methods, Cleveland not being too far from Chicago and possibly where his father's killer hailed from. Bishop possibly hopes he can be better at his job than the man who killed his father, which would finally give him some power in their relationship, or at least his idea of it. This also affords him the idea that he is "outside the system" to which his father was devoted.
Bishop's justifications for killing echo the question wrestled with by Rasalnikov from Dostoevsky's classic, "Crime and Punishment." which is reinforced when Bishop tells Steve that Napoleon was a killer, the same thought that Dostoevsky's character had and wrestled with. Like Dostoevsky's character, Bishop can't put himself in the same place that Napoleon did, we see it suggested that his physical problems are psychologically based and possibly due to the stress and guilt from making a living killing people. Bishop imagines himself outside the rules, yet must admit that everyone has rules, the distinction he makes is that some people have their own rule book.
"There are killers and there are killers, to tell you the truth they all have a different book of rules. To get away with it depends on the book of rules you have in your pocket at the time, your own country, somebody else's country, or your own personal book of rules. All this (waves at the museum figures) heroes, half of them are killers. Napoleon was one you know, Pancho Villa, Genghis Khan, and the we have our own domestic brand, like Billy the Kid, Jesse James and John Dillinger. Yeah, they're about as famous as our own honest to goodness heroes."
He speaks contemptuously of those who "need a license" to kill, but Steve appears correct when he accuses Bishop of using the Organization to provide a license for him, a fact which we can surmise Bishop himself must have considered, and possibly the reason he "broke the rules." and brought Steve in without asking permission. Despite his challenging tone to "the man" in the Organization, we know that Bishop has spent most of his life enforcing contracts on other's who broke these rules, so ignorance is not believable. This is supported by his lack of surprise, finding Steve has taken his contract. Ultimately, we have a man so lost in his own contradictions, that he is ready and willing to orchestrate his own death. His disconnection from life is also illustrated in his paying a hooker, to not only have sex with him, but to convincingly act the part of his disappointed girlfriend, as if he can forge human contact by emulating it.
While evaluating Steve, after watching Louise cut her wrist, Bishop tells him "It takes a very special kind of person to pick up the tab for that kind of living. You say you dig it, but you're talking about something you really know nothing about." We know that Bishop himself is wrestling with "the tab." Choosing Steve as his protege is not accidental, having parallels to his own story. We know that Steve's father once saved Bishop's life, and that Steve considers himself outside the rules. It's Steve that points out that they both live "in their minds." While on the surface, we don't see Bishop with any ethical compunctions about killing, we do sense that his disconnectedness is becoming to much to bear and training Steve may be an assertion of his humanity, the chance to let someone into his head. Bishop plays out his death perfectly, not tipping Steve off in any way that he knows he's planning to kill him. Even when after the last hit, the Organization miraculously arrives gunning for him, knowing that only Steve could have tipped them off, he doesn't show the least suspicion. His own death is in fact, necessary to build Steve's confidence in order for Bishop's hit on Steve to work. Bishop doesn't succeed at living but can succeed in dying "by his own rules."
This is a solid film by Michael Winner, who seemed well suited to bring out the best in Charles Bronson (also notably collaborating in Death Wish.) The opening sequence is brilliant and you become so involved in Bishop planning his hit that you don't realize you've witnessed 16 minutes without any dialogue whatsoever, as close as we can get to living in the character's mind. This paints the character beautifully and is particularly good for Bronson, an actor who acts with his stony face, more than with anything he says. Jan-Michael Vincent is great as Steven, a cocky kid, too full of himself for his own good. And it's also a treat to see Bronson with Jill Ireland, his longtime wife, although her part was small here. The action sequences are exciting and original, and this is as much an action film as it is a dramatic one, which is suitable for the questions it poses.
Bronson is great as a hitman and the term "Mechanic" suits him. his disconnected, technical approach to killing makes the taking of someone else's life an engineering problem, rather than a cruelty. He shows no emotion even when killing Harry, an old family friend who he remembers from childhood. Yet, we do get glimpses of emotion turning behind his eyes. He considers things obsessively, yet his stoic determination and adherence to his own rules puts any qualms at bay, yet, not completely enough that his subconscious lets him off the hook. He does, "live in his mind." but his longing for some sort of connection must be placated somehow.
"Be dead sure or be dead!" Bishop tells Steve, and this observation hits in a couple ways. Bishop is no longer sure about many things, and sees this as a logical choice, accepting the latter. Steve says he'll "Try to remember that" but Bishop tells him "Don't try. Remember." Steve doesn't have time to grasp the full meaning of the advice, and pays for it, his sudden explosive ending the only fitting reminder for not considering all the angles. "The Mechanic" examines the "tab" that must be picked up by those who think to "live outside." presenting it as an inevitable fact, which you will pay eventually, even if you're too skilled to be forced to pay it by anyone but yourself.
*There is a remake coming out shortly, directed by Simon West (Con Air) starring Jason Statham, Ben Foster, and Donald Sutherland. I'll be curious to see how it turns out but can't imagine it will top the original classic. Jason Stathams a solid action guy, but you can't compete with Bronson.
Monday, November 15, 2010
What About It?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")
The Road to Perdition is both a great hit man movie and coming of age story. Sam Mendes does a wonderful job maintaining a dark and somber mood and creating a world where gangsters operate as a family business. Everything, including betrayal is handled in order for the business to look out for it's own interests. While the relationship between John Rooney and Michael Sullivan Sr., is more family than business, we see that on higher levels, the same principles apply. Rather than everybody rushing to kill each other, they first attempt to use the proper channels. Undoubtedly already aware that Michael Sullivan will not stop at anything short of killing Connor, attempts are still made to settle things quietly. John Rooney offers him money, Nitti offers him a reminder of their resources.
Rooney's line that "Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers" is a large theme in the film. We see that Rooney loves Michael like a son, and has open contempt for his own son Connor. Yet, bloodlines are important here, and no matter his feeling Rooney can't choose over his own family no matter how disastrous the decision is. Likewise, when all Michael has left is Michael Jr., his first thought is to take care of his own family. The circumstances force him to be a father in a way he probably never had to before. Although their bonding experiences are far from conventional, such as teaching his son to drive a get away car, the time and interest are what come through as real. Despite living in the same house for his entire childhood, Michael Jr. knows little about his father, who has been content to keep the bills paid while his wife "manages: the kids. His father has been a figure rather than a man. The dire circumstances allow them to connect on a human level, each directly interested in the other. Michael Jr., finds that his father is tough and uncompromising but not uncaring. Michael Sr.'s fear that his son will be like him, has never been put into words, but they both come to see it and confront it.
Both John Rooney and Michael spend most of the story acting to protect their sons, although Michael must also avenge the rest of his family. The differences in their backgrounds is another key factor in their struggle. Raised with the surroundings of privilege, Connor sees himself as untouchable and justified in acting out his every whim. The scene early in the movie where he prevents Michael Jr. from retrieving John's jacket, tells us all about his character. Although allowing him to get it would be no more trouble than having the conversation with Michael Jr, already is, he prevents him simply because he can. It's also telling that John passively allows this to occur, only rectifying it later in order to make a point to Michael Jr. Jr.,on the other hand is raised working class. He has no idea how much money his family has, but he thinks of his life as average. He has a respect for authority, because he sees his father's respect for his employer, even seeing John as a grandfatherly figure until he realizes what he's really about. He refuses, however to call Connor, "Uncle Connor" showing that his respect does have a limit.
Michael makes no apologies for what he is or does. He sees his occupation as an honorable way to make a living. He doesn't hesitate to kill people, but neither does he kill anyone or do anything without a practical end in mind. Robbing banks of "only dirty money" shows his practical sense. The money, to him, is only a means to exert pressure having little interest as a thing on it's own. He deduces accurately that Capone's organizations greatest loyalty is to profit, and then to John Rooney, and acts to position himself so that allowing him to kill Connor doesn't conflict with either motive. The ease with which he kills Connor after the elder Rooney is dead, shows how exact the organization's principles are, Connor's protection even holding open the doors to allow him in.
This is a film where all the parts work perfectly, great direction, a smart script, and a dream cast combine to form an authentic story. The screenplay by David Self, based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, is based on true events.While I don't always care for Tom Hanks' choice of roles, there's no doubt he's a great actor and he shines here, while playing against his usual type, but still using his "wholesome" persona on some level to give his character depth. We need to believe that Michael Sullivan is a man of contradiction as suggested in the opening narration. He's a loyal family man, who also kills people for a living. Tyler Hoechlin is great as Michael junior giving us a convincingly young twelve year old, with enough sense and gravity to be taken seriously as a player in the story. Paul Newman's part is small by comparison, but his presence in small scenes is memorable enough that his presence is never absent from the film. We can believe him as the father Michael never had, his sorrow at his own choice, and as a result we feel Michael's regret when he must eliminate him. Daniel Craig is also perfect, his spoiled arrogance is played well, his absurd constant smile giving us this character exactly. Entitled, but fatally shortsighted, playing on loyalty without grasping the responsibility that comes with it.
Jude Law's Harlen is perfect as a foil for Michael Sullivan. We sense that no one is a match for Michael one on one. The way he effortlessly mows down John's men, indicates that. Harlen is the sneaky where Michael is straightforward. Where Michael is used to death he isn't blood thirsty, while Harlen revels in it to the most ridiculous degree imaginable with his dead body pictures. Harlen although completely repulsive, is also very capable and efficient, which Michael sees immediately, taking great pains to avoid Harlen while he has a mission to complete.
We begin with the question was Michael Sullivan a good man? or without any good at all. What we see in the film is that Michael Sullivan contains all kinds of things, but with "he was my father." we grasp the enormity of what family means. Both Michaels understand this. After finding Michael Jr. had witnessed Finn's murder, Connor asks if Jr. can keep a secret and Michael Sr. answers with similar language, not saying yes or no, but only "He's my son." Questions of good or bad and right or wrong, take a back seat to the idea that this is who you have in the world. Connor is the only one of the four characters that doesn't appreciate this, though he does realize it, using it in an opportunistic way, without a sense of reciprocity. You could almost say, there's good and bad, and then there's family.
You could spend a long time assigning blame, but as John says to Michael, "There are only murderers in this room." The situation Michael is in is a fact of his lifestyle, always a possible consequence. The same is true of the Rooney's, and John to his credit, doesn't claim otherwise. Michael addresses his son's concerns that it was his fault everything happened due to his sneaking in the car, and although he doesn't say it, we sense that he agrees with John's assessment. What happened was a result of the business he's in. Michael doesn't spend time bemoaning his fate, only attempts to correct it in a way that gives his son a chance to be different than he himself was. His last act is an act of giving Michael Jr. the chance to keep his hands free of the blood, that Sr. is so used to, by killing Harlen, a figure who couldn't be a better symbol for an obsession with murder. So Michael Jr. is "raised on a farm" but he sees the road trip as "a whole life before that." He's seen one road all the way to it's end, and whatever anyone can say of his father, he did succeed in giving his son a chance to "see Heaven."
"There are many stories about Michael Sullivan. Some say he was a decent man. Some say there was no good in him at all. But I once spent six weeks on the road with him, in the winter of 1931. This is our story."
This narration by Michael Sulivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) begins the film and we're quickly brought in to take a look at family life in the Sullivan household.
Young Michael Jr. and his little brother Peter sit quietly at the kitchen table while their mother Annie (Jennifer-Jason Leigh) oversees. He struggles with his homework until his mother tells him to go get his father. His father is in his bedroom in the process of emptying his pockets, and taking off his jacket, getting ready for dinner. Michael walks quietly up to the room observing as his father takes his gun out of his pocket. Although fascinated, he doesn't mention it, just waits a moment and tells his Dad that dinner's ready.
We then see the Sullivan's heading to a wake thrown by John Rooney (Paul Newman) who greets the Sullivan kids warmly asking for hugs and even taking them off privately to throw dice. After Michael Jr. comes out ahead, Rooney sends Michael upstairs to get something from his jacket pocket. He's unable to get the jacket though as Rooney's son, Connor (Daniel Craig) is lying down in the room smoking and tells him to come back later. Downstairs the wake is underway and John says a few words about the man saying "lose one of us it hurts us all." He tells a story about the dead man tackling his own quarterback in the last moments of a game, adding "Mistakes, we all make em." John then calls the dead man's brother, Finn McGovern to say a few words. McGovern says his brother was "loyal, brave,and he never told a lie." However, possibly due to being a little drunk, McGovern says a few words against John Rooney, saying "You rule this town as God rules the Earth, you know, you give and you take away." Michael escorts McGovern out of the room, with Connor following along. John also follows them out. McGovern threatens Connor before Michael puts him into his car. John asks for Connor's thoughts on McGovern's condition. Connor says he probably had too much to drink and he'll be fine. He does say he's going to go "talk to him" John insists that he bring Michael along and that he "just talk to him"
They all rejoin the wake and John and Michael have a moment playing the piano together. Connor looks on grinning. The younger Sullivan brother taps Connor and asks "Why are you always smiling?" Connor stoops down to look him in the eyes and says "because it's all so fucking hysterical." They go home and the kids go to bed. His little brother asks Michael Jr. what their Dad does for work, Michael Jr. says "He goes on missions for Mr. Rooney." The next morning Michael tells Peter that he can't make his concert that evening because he has to work. Michael Jr. asks "working at what?" prompting a stern look from his mother who says "putting food on your plate young man."
We see Michael loading his case in his car and leaving. He stops to pick up Connor. Michael asks "We're just talking to him right?"Connor gives him a flip "Sure." We see that Michael Jr, is hidden beneath the back seat, lifting the seat slightly, trying to sneak a look at the front. Michael and Connor head into a warehouse to meet with Tim McGovern. Michael Jr. sneaks out of the car and peeks in at them pressuring McGovern to come to his senses. McGovern agrees to keep quiet for the sake of his life and job, and leaving, Connor says he's "sorry your brother was such a fucking liar." This prompts McGovern to disagree, which Connor doesn't appreciate. McGovern insists that his brother never stole anything but that he 'knows something is going on" and will find out what it is. When McGovern almost accuses Connor of stealing the money his brother was blamed for, Connor shoots him in the head. Michael shoots McGovern as well to make sure he's dead. He then berates Connor for what he did. Connor notices, movement where Michael Jr. is hiding and watching and they scramble towards him. Michael finds his soon huddled against a fence, he asks if he saw the whole thing and Michael Jr. nods. He tells him not to speak of it to anyone. Connor comes out and sees that it's Michael Jr. and asks if he can keep a secret. Michael says "He's my son." which Connor claims is good enough for him.
On the ride home, Michael tells his son about the house that Mr. Rooney gave them and the life he made possible. Michael Jr. says he understands, but seems upset at home, prompting Michael to tell his wife that Michael had hidden away and seen his work. Michael Jr. is about to take a bike ride and finds John Rooney in the driveway asking about "their secret." Michael Jr. doesn't say a word, but Rooney says "I'm talking about the dice. A man of honor always pays his debts and keeps his word." He hands Michael Jr. a coin and smiles at him, but Michael Jr. just says he's late for school and leaves.
John and Michael have a drink alone discussing the issue. Michael assures John that his son understands. John tells him he sympathizes, telling Michael that "sons are put on this Earth to trouble their fathers." We see a flash of Michael Jr. at school, fighting. We then see a board meeting with all of John's people. John asks Connor if he has anything to say about it. John gets angry with Connor's smirk stating "we lost a good man. Do you think it's funny? Try again." He tries another time angering John for saying he's "like to apologize" and finally at his father's insistence, he stands and directly apologizes. One of John's men mentions a lot of unpaid debt, and Michael says "just give me the names" They all head upstairs to do so except for Connor who sits at the table stewing. When Michael leaves, Connor rushes out to catch him,handing him a note, saying his Father forgot to give it to him and it's a reminder that a Tony Calvino "is light again." Connor apologizes again and Michael accepts before driving off to see Tony Calvino. He heads to a busy nightclub to find Calvino. The doorman clearly knows his name and Michael has to tell the man to frisk him He asks if he can put a good word in to Mr. Rooney for him and escorts him to Calvino. When the doorman announces that Michael is there to see him, Calvino isn't pleased and hides a gun beneath a magazine, before having him sent in. Michael hands Calvino what he says is a letter from Mr. Rooney. Michael watches Calvino's expression change reading the leader and also realizes there is a gun beneath the magazine. When Calvino attempts to reach for it, Michael grabs it and shoots him and then the doorman. He reads the letter,finding it says "Kill Sullivan and all Debts are Paid"
He attempts to call the house realizing his family is in danger,but the phone is off the hook. Connor is in the house already and kills Michael's wife as well as Peter. Michael Jr. gets home on his bike and hears the shots from outside and sees Connor leaving. Michael Jr. enters the house and sees what's happened. Michael Sr. arrives soon after and wails when he sees what's happened. He tells Jr. that this is no longer their home.
John has been informed about what happened and furiously curses Connor, who tells him the kid would have talked. Michael makes a stop to see someone, telling Michael Jr. to wait in the car. He pleads with his father not to go,but he explains that he has to protect them now as people will be after them. He forces Michael Jr.to take a gun, and tells him if he's not back in ten minutes to go see at Reverend Lynch at First Methodist, and NOT to go see Father Callaway. He enters a building and finds a Mr. Kelly.Michael says he doesn't have business with him, but Mr. Kelly says that he has business with Michael. Mr. Kelly offers Michael a case with $25,000.00 in it and tells Michael that Mr. Rooney has said there's more if he needs it. Mr. Rooney suggests that Michael take Peter and go to Ireland. Michael informs him that he can't take Peter, as he's dead. Michael asks where Connor is and Mr. Kelly tells him he's in hiding, but refusing to tell him more, explaining that if he tells he's a dead man anyway. Mr. Kelly reminds him that he's only the messenger. Michael nods and says "Then give Mr. Rooney a message for me." When Mr. Kelly asks what the message is, Michael shoots him in the head. Michael gets back to the car and takes the gun back from his son. He explains that they have to go to Chicago to see "a man who runs things" and where he stands.
They get to Chicago and Michael has his son wait while he goes to see Mr. Nitti., (Stanley Tucci) one of Al Capone's officers. He offers Mr. Nitti his services in exchange for him turning a blind eye to him killing his family's murderer. Nitti tells him it isn't possible, and Michael concludes that Nitti is already protecting Connor. We then see that John and Connor are also in Chicago and had listened to the whole conversation. Connor tells his father they should get him while he's in the building, but John tells Connor to go upstairs, as if sending him to his room. John struggles to make a decision and Nitti advises him to think objectively, as if Michael were "just some guy." John says "Make it Quick" but tells him not to hurt Michael Jr. Mr. Nitti mentions they have a "gifted" guy who's done work for them in the past that can handle killing Michael.
We then see Harlen Maguire (Jude Law) bringing camera equipment to a crime scene. He's taking photographs of a stabbing victim. The cops give him two minutes to take pictures. When Harlen sees the victim move, he chokes him cloth and then takes his pictures. Harlen takes the call from Mr. Nitti, who agrees to his rate. Maguire tells Mr. Nitti that he knows Michael's work.
Michael Sr, and Jr. talk in the car, about going to Michael Jr's. Aunt Sarah's house in Perdition, as she'll take him in. He tells Jr. that it's by a lake and they all went there together once. Mike Jr. remembers there was a dog there. We see Harlen attending Michael's family's funeral although Michael isn't there. He calls the house and speaks with Sarah telling her that they're heading to her place,if it's alright. Harlen picks up the phone after Sarah hangs up and tells the operator he was cut off and needs to be reconnected.
Michael stops at a diner for food, although Jr. says he isn't hungry and wants to stay in the car and read. Harlen shows up the dinner, and gets a table facing Michael. Michael talks with Harlen about a camera he pulls from his pocket. He tells Mike about his job photographing the dead and his fascination with the look of them. Mike excuses himself to use the restroom and Harlen gets his gun ready only to realize Michael snuck out and is driving away, having popped his tires on the way. Harlen shoots after the car,and when a cop asks him what he's doing, he shoots the cop dead. Michael realizes they can't go to Sarah's as Harlen knew they were headed there. He tells Mike Jr. that they're going to convince Capone to give up Connor by taking their money until they do. He teaches Mike Jr. to drive and they stop at a bank where Michael asks for "dirty money only" demanding everything they're holding off the books for Capone. When the bank official tells him they'll figure out who he is, he volunteers his name even spelling it. He informs the bank manager that he "won't be happy" if he reports it or hears about a farmer's savings being wiped out by a bank robber.
They continue robbing banks, Mike Sr.,getting the money while Jr.drives. Over dinner Mike Jr.asks when he can have his share of the money. "How much do you want?" his father asks. He says "$200.00" to which Sr.says "Ok. Deal." After thinking a minute Mike Jr. asks "Could I have had more?" and his Dad answers"You'll never know."
We see John Rooney in Chicago ignoring a ringing phone looking angry. We then see Connor with the phone in hand, getting angry and throwing furniture when his father won't answer. Nitti gets a call about the stolen money. Connor bursts in on Nitti, yelling that he's not a prisoner and wanting to see his father. Nitti is clearly not pleased with Connor, reminding him that he can't take care of himself or he wouldn't be there. Connor tells him not to talk to him that way again, as he is "the future" his father being an old man.
Michael hits a bank and finds that Chicago took out all their money two days ago. He gets the name of the accountant that withdrew it, Alexander Rance (Dylan Baker) We see that Harlen has a room rented across from Rance's room and is waiting for Michael to show up. Rance knows Sullivan so is immediately frightened when he enters the room, instead of the room service he expected. Rance makes a point of walking past the windows causing Michael to shut the curtains, which makes Harlen grab his gun and head across the street. Mike Jr, sees Harlen heading into the hotel with a gun and starts honking the horn, although Mike Sr. can't hear it. Rance tries to stall Michael acting as if he doesn't know which key will open the trunk with the files Michael wants. When Michael tells Rance he gets one more try, he finds the key, but jumps out of the way as he opens out. Michael avoids the blasts from Harlen entering with his shotgun and manages to hit Harlan,disfiguring his face. He sees that the blasts hit Rance, killing him, and he takes the files and leaves Harlen in the room, finding himself shot in the arm. When Michael Sr. passes out in the car, Mike Jr. stops and screams at people on a farm they're passing to help.
They take him in and remove the bullet, letting him recover. Mike Jr. helps them with the work on the farm and they come to really like having him there. They get some time to talk, and Mike Jr. asks if he liked Peter better. His father explains that he was harder on Mike Jr. because he reminded him of himself and he didn't want him to be like him. Going through the files, Mike Sr. realizes that Connor has been stealing money and blaming the men that got killed. Michael drops in on John Rooney at church and tells him they need to meet downstairs. He tells John what Connor's been doing. John asks "Do you think I'd give up my son?" He says he knows that Connor betrayed him and tells him he should leave before it gets worse. Michael points out that when John dies they won't need to bother protecting Connor anymore and will likely want to get him out of the way. John tells him he still can't deliver his own son to be killed. When Michael mentions that Connor killed his wife and son, John says "There are only murderers in this room. Michael, open your eyes!" John begs him again to leave if only for Michael Jr.'s sake.
That night, Mike Jr. sees his father assembling a gun. When he asks what he's doing he tells him he has one more thing to do and he'll be done, and tells him to go to bed. We see John being escorted to his car in the rain by a group of men only to find that his driver is dead. Michael kills every one of them except for John and then approaches him walking up close. John looks at Michael and says "I'm glad it's you." before Michael shoots him.
Michael calls Nitti for Connor's room. Nitti says that Al Capone wants his assurance that after this, it's over. Michael walks into the hotel, all of the guards move aside for him and allow him in and he shoots Connor while he's sitting in a bath.
With Connor dead, they head for Sarah's house. Mike Jr. plays on the beach with a dog that runs out to greet them and Mike Sr. goes in the house to look for Sarah. He finds the house immaculate but Sarah isn't there. Standing at the window watching Mike Jr. on the beach we see Mike Sr. get shot from behind by Harlen, who is now getting his camera ready for the death picture. Mike Jr. then comes up behind Harlen pointing a gun. Harlen tells him not to do it and tries to ease up closer to him. We hear a shot and see that his father has shot Harlen so he wouldn't have to do it. He tells his father "I couldn't do it." and he smiles and replies "I know." His father repeats "I'm sorry." several time and dies. We see Michael Jr. driving to the farm where they had nursed his father to health and we hear him in voice over:
"I saw then that my father's only fear was that his son would follow the same road. And that was the last time I ever held a gun. People always thought I grew up on a farm. And I guess, in a way, I did. But I lived a lifetime before that, in those six weeks on the road in the winter of 1931. When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them... he was my father. "
Friday, November 12, 2010
He has a young woman working with him. We see them signal to each other as a woman is about to leave her car unattended. He hotwires the car when the coast is clear, and although his assistant asks to go with him, he firmly tells her no and takes off. Driving down the road, the cigar never leaving his mouth, he says "I collect the dough. I ask Patricia if it's yes or no." He debates picking up a couple of ladies hitchhiking until he gets close to them and pronounces them "both dogs." He finds a gun in the glove box and points at passing cars, mock shooting them saying "Pow. Pow."
Hitting some traffic,he attempts to keep going but the police spot him. He attempts to evade them and pulls off on a side road hoping they'll pass by. The car stalls and he needs to hot wire it again and an officer on a motorcycle pulls up to arrest him. Michel shoots the officer and runs away on foot to Paris. He ditches his hat, coat and cigar, and gets a ride to Paris, where he visits a hotel, asking for Miss Franchini's room. Finding she's out, he takes advantage of the unattended front desk and grabs her key, visiting her room to wash up and search for cash. He stops and orders breakfast, excusing himself to grab a newspaper, which he uses to shine his shoes before dropping in on a girlfriend who he asks to borrow money "until noon" She tells him he's rotten and offers a lesser amount which he tells her to keep, and then quickly grabs all the money out of her pocketbook while she has her shirt over her head, dressing. He offers to take her to breakfast knowing she's running late.
He puts on a hat and coat and finds a new cigar and then looks for Patricia Franchini, (Jean Seberg) an American girl hawking the "New York Herald Tribune" newspaper in the streets. He greets her saying "It's crazy, but I love you." asking her to go to Rome with him. She asks about his travels and asks why he's there as he hates Paris. He replies "No. but I've got enemies here." before asking her to go to Rome again. Patricia tells him she has too much to do. She walks with him while selling papers, pausing conversation to yell "New York Herald Tribune." They discuss a previous encounter.
Patricia: You're mad I left without a goodbye.
Michel: No, I was furious because I was sad.
He tells her he has to see a man in Paris who owes him money, adding that then he has to see her. She talks down the idea, stating that there are prettier girls around. Michel says "No. It's weird. I've slept with two girls since you. We didn't jive at all." He again asks about Rome and Patricia again claims too much to do. She says she has to enroll at the Sorbonne or her parents won't send money anymore.
Michel: I've got money.
Patricia: We only spent three nights together.
Michel: No, five.
Michel sees the time and says he has to go. She agrees to meet him on the street that night. Michel witnesses a hit and run, walks over takes a look at the victim along with several others, and crosses himself and walks away. He then finds a description of the motorcycle cops murder in a newspaper. He heads to a travel agency and asks for Mr. Tomalchoff, who owes him money. Tomalchoff say the money is ready. He's upset that his check is "crossed" so he has to sign it over to someone else to get it cashed. Tomalchoff mentions "Berutti" who Michel says he can't stand, although Tomalchoff thought they were friends. Michel asks to us the phone.
Two men show up looking for Michel. Tomalchoff greets them saying "Hello, Inspector." They respond asking sarcastically "In the travel business now?" The inspector tells him "Remember how you ratted on your friend Bob?" Tomalchaff gets upset and asks "What if I did?" The Inspector answers "You're going to do it again." He then asks about Michel and if he's been in to see him lately. Tomalchoff says no, and the Inspector asks the receptionist if anyone's been in to see Tomalchff. She says yes, five minutes ago, and they run to try and catch up with him.
Michel is on the street reading another paper and smoking a cigarette. He stops to look at a picture of Humphrey Bogart who's smoking a cigarette the same way.He stares at another picture for a moment as if trying to match the expression in Bogart's eyes. He meets up with Patricia,who wants him to take her out for dinner. He has to make a call first and visits a public restroom, where he mugs a man to get money for dinner and rushes back to Patricia. Walking down the street, Michel tells her a story about a man who stole money to impress a girl, noting that after he was found out she stood by him, and even helped him commit crimes in the future. Patricia suddenly remembers she has an appointment to meet a journalist on the Champs-Elysees, to go to a press conference. Michel is upset that she's leaving and tells her to meet him tonight. She says she can't but will meet him tomorrow. When she doesn't see any taxis, he offers to give her a ride. She notices that he's driving a different car, and he claims the last one is in the garage. He pushes her to let him stay with her. He tells her that he can't be without her, but she keeps contesting the idea. She gets out of the car seeing her meeting place before Michel can park.
She meets a man at a table in a restaurant, apologizing for being late. She tells the man that she's like to dig a hole to hide in. He advises her to "do like elephants do when they're sad." and vanish. She explains "I don't know if I'm unhappy because I'm not free, or if I'm not free because I'm unhappy." He tells her a story about a woman he met for lunch and forgot to suggest that she sleep with him, and remembering later, sent her a telegram telling her so,only to have her send a reply back that she had thought the same thing. The man tells her to come to the office tomorrow. Michel is in the building and sees them leaving together and then get into the man's car. He picks up another newspaper and looks over to see Patricia kissing the man before they drive off.
Patricia arrives at her room the next day and finds her key missing. When she gets in she finds Michel in her bed. She reacts calmly asking "What are you doing here?" He tells her "The Claridge was all booked up." She points out that there are other hotels and tells him he's crazy. Michel says "Don't make such a face, it doesn't suit you." Patricia stands at the mirror and asks "What's making a face?" Michel says "Going like this." and demonstrates a few funny faces for her. She then tries them herself while looking in the mirror and says "I think it suits me just fine." Michel says "You're crazier than me." Talking to himself in the bathroom mirror he says "I always fall for girls who aren't my type." He asks Patricia if she noticed that he followed her last night. She tells him not to bother her as she's thinking. Michel asks her what's wrong, but she says she doesn't know adding "I'd like to think about something but I can't seem to." Michel tells her she should've stayed with him rather than seeing the guy last night. She explains that the guy gets her articles to write, which is very important to her. Michel tells her that going to Rome with him is what's important. She says she didn't sleep with the guy. Michel tells her that he loves her, but she says she doesn't know if she loves him yet. He asks her when she will, and she tells him "Soon." He asks her why she won't sleep with him and she tells him that she's trying to figure out what she likes about him and wants them to be "like Romeo and Juliet." He insists that he can't live without her. He demands that she smile at him nut she refuses. He says he'll count to eight and if she doesn't smile he'll strangle her. He then puts his hands around her neck and counts to eight, doing a lot of stalling between seven and eight until she laughs. Michel calls her a coward and when she asks why, he says that "if a girl says that everything is fine and then can't light her cigarette, she's scared of something. "
Patricia finds Michel's passport and asks if it's his. He quickly explains that it's his brother's, although not his real brother (explaining why it says "Laszlo Kovacs") Michel lights a cigarette easily, pointing out that he's not scared. Michel continues asking her to sleep with him and she keeps changing the subject eventually telling Michel that she's just found out she's pregnant and thinks it's his baby. Michel makes a phone call to tell Tomalchaff he can't find Berutti. He informs Michel that the police were looking for him. He turns his attention back to Patricia, who is getting ready in the bathroom, then makes another call to arrange the sale of another stolen car. He turns back to Patricia who admits she's scared."It's true, I'm scared, because I want you to love me.But at the same time I want you to stop loving me. I'm very independent you know."
Michel: I love you, but not how you think.
Patricia: Then how?
Michel: Not the way you think.
Patricia: But you don't know what I think. You don't know.
Michel: Sure I do.
Patricia: No, you can't. I want to know what's behind your face. I've looked at it for 10 minutes now, and I still know nothing, nothing. I'm not sad. But I'm scared.
She tells Michel that she's writing a novel, which surprises him. She asks him if he likes William Faulkner, who he's never heard of. He's more interested in trying to take off her top, but she wants to read to him from "The Wild Palms" reading "between grief and nothing, I will take grief." and asks Michel which he would choose. After trying to change the subject, he answers that he'd choose nothing, because grief is a compromise, and he wants all or nothing. Patricia closes her eyes and tells Michel that she's trying to make everything go black, but can never make everything entirely black. She gets under the blanket with him and agrees to stay with him. Later she gets up and tells him she needs to go buy a dress. She agrees to let Michel go with her to the office to prepare for the press conference she needs to attend. They walk outside and she waits for him to get his car, not realizing that he needs to find one to steal. He eventually finds one and they go to her office.He sits in the car reading the paper, noticing that the police have put a big picture of him in it which a man on the street also seems to notice. The press conference is for a writer named Parvulesco (Jean Pierre Melville.) The reporters ask him questions about love, and the differences between men and women.
While she's at the conference, Michel goes to sell the car. The buyer however, wasn't expecting the model that Michel brought, but offers a price saying that he can't pay until next week. Michel calls him a bastard, and the man answers "What are you Mr. Kovacs?" showing Michel the picture from the newspaper. Michel asks to use the phone and looks around the office for cash. He asks to speak to Berutti, but is told that Antonio wants to meet him later. The buyer walks in on him and tells him not to bother searching. Michel attempts to drive the car away but finds the distributor cap has been removed. He punches the buyer and makes him pay for his taxi.
Michel picks up Patricia in the cab, telling the driver to step on it constantly. He tells Patricia he was in an accident, but unharmed. He has the cab stop so he can meet Berutti at the agreed upon place, but as he ran late he finds Berutti gone when he gets there and returns to the cab. Patricia needs to go back to the Herald. Michel asks her "Why bother writing?" She answers "To have money and not rely on men." Michel leaves Patricia at the Herald. Shortly after he leaves, the Inspector looking for Michel comes to see Patricia and asks if she knows Michel, showing her his picture in the newspaper. She denies knowing him initially, but when the Inspector cautions her, she identifies him, saying she wasn't sure at first because it's an old picture. The inspector asks where Michel is, but she tells him she doesn't know. She says she only met him recently and doesn't know him well. The inspector asks if she thinks she'll see him again, and she says she might. He the asks her about her working papers, suggesting that if she doesn't want passport problems, she'll call if she sees him again.
The cops then split up,one following Patricia and the other presumably looking for Michel. Michel sees this happening from across the street as he pretends to read a newspaper. Patricia sees him and points to the man following her. Patricia then loses her tail by sneaking out the window of a movie theatre restroom. She finds Michel on the street and they agree to go see a western movie after dark. The news announces that police are closing in on Michel. Patricia reads the newspaper while he drives. She asks him about his marriage, which he says was a long time ago and he can't remember who dumped who. She wonders how the police knew they were together and Michel says it was an informer. Patricia says that's horrible, but Michel says "No. It's normal. Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love." Michel decides he needs to switch cars and Patricia suggests a nearby Cadillac, which he has her drive. He tells her they need to find Antonio Berutti. Eventually they find Berutti. in the middle of setting up blackmail pictures of a businessman kissing a girl,that works with him. Michel gives Berutti the check and they agree to meet the next day at an agreed upon hideout. Patricia tells Michel she has some doubts. The next morning at the new hideout, while Michel makes calls, Patricia takes a walk and calls the inspector with their location.
She returns to the hideout and tells Michel she called the police. She explains that she doesn't want to go away with him and called the police because she doesn't want to be in love with him, claiming that being mean to him proves she doesn't love him. Michel tells her that despite claims that there is no happy love, "there is no unhappy love." She claims she's independent. Michel says "You think you are but you're not."
Michel: I'm better than you are.
Patricia: Now you have no choice but to go.
Michel: You're crazy! That's a pathetic argument. [lights a cigarette] (as he did in the hotel room, proving he wasn't scared) You're like the girl who sleeps with everyone except the one man who loves her saying it's because she sleeps with everyone.
Patricia: Why don't you go? I've slept with lots of men. Don't count on me. What are you waiting for?
Michel: No, I'm staying. I'm in bad shape. I prefer prison.
Patricia: You're mad!
Michel: Nobody'll talk to me. I can look at the walls.
He remembers Berutti, and runs out into the street to tell him to go, because Patricia turned him in. Berutti gives him his money and tries to convince him to get in the car but Michel refuses, saying "I'm fed up. I'm tired. I want to sleep." Berutti tries to offer Michel his pistol but Michel won't take it. The cops pull up and take aim at Michel. Berutti drives off throwing the pistol. Michel picks it up to throw it back at Berutti, but the police fire on him. He runs down the street after the car losing strength with each step. Patricia, hearing the shots, runs out after him. Michel falls to the ground. The police and Patricia stand over him as he looks up. Looking at Patricia, he "makes a face" as he did in her room. and says "You make me want to puke" He reaches up with his hand and closes his own eyelids, dying.
The officers repeat, He said "You make him want to puke" and she asks "What's puke?"
(There are other translations of the last lines, one has Michel saying "I'm a real scumbag." which the Inspector distorts as "He says you're a real scumbag" Patricia asking "What's a scumbag." The actual French lines are:
Michel: C'est vraiment dégueulasse.
Patricia: Qu'est ce qu'il a dit?
Inspectoe Vital: Il a dit que vous êtes vraiment "une dégueulasse".
Patricia: Qu'est ce que c'est "dégueulasse"?)
What we see here is not accidental, the unpredictable score draws attention to signs as we pass them. We get the sense that these characters view life as a movie almost as much as we see their lives that way. We see only what we're shown, a fact which Patricia alludes to when she says, " I want to know what's behind your face. I've looked at it for 10 minutes now, and I still know nothing, nothing. I'm not sad. But I'm scared." It's difficult to really know anything, especially who someone is, particularly a man who painstakingly imitates the movie gangster look. The pivotal scene in the film is the long conversation in Patricia's room, and it revolves around the question "would you choose grief over nothing?" Michel quickly agrees and his all or nothing choice is confirmed by his actions. Michel spends most of his time "just doing" stealing cars, shooting a cop on the spur of the moment. He is madly in love with Patricia, but he doesn't want to talk about it, he wants to make love. Patricia agrees with the idea, closing her eyes, attempting to make everything go black (which she can't do) She examines ideas from others, yet can't commit to them for herself.
The ideas which inspire him are affectations, how he looks while he's trying to live. Patricia however is paralyzed by ideas she hasn't embraced, she continually mentions her "independence" yet she goes on dates with a journalist to further her career. While she loves Michel, this fact presents a dilemma. She fears that in loving another, she will lose her "independent" self. While for him, this is obvious, Patricia is doing a similar thing. She is casting herself as the independent forward thinking woman. The questions asked of Parvelesco at the press conference are not accidental, reflecting conversation on gender roles that Patricia was exposed to at the time. We are greatly influenced by culture, whether we realize it or not. The questions asked by the press are what presumably, the public wants to know. Patricia's questions about a woman's place in society, are answered by Parvelesco's fliratious compliment, which tellingly pleases her, despite not getting an answer. When Michel asks her "Why bother writing?" She answers "To have money and not rely on men." She finds the idea intoxicating, but not an easy one to live up to, craving the attention of men.
The only time that both are free of their facades is in bed, without "costumes." Yet even there, the sense of connection is fleeting. Patricia bemoans the fact that "sleeping together" is not really sleeping together, as when lovers sleep they separate. She longs for a real connection as much as she praises independence. She is so conflicted between the two ideas that she is unable to trust any feelings of her own. She agrees to stay with Michel because she sees a Romeo and Juliet story, another cultural influence. She calls the police on Michel, in order to force him to leave. It's not conceivable to her that he has embraced his "stoic tough guy" role so entirely, that he'll stay with her despite the cost of losing his freedom. Michel is as indentured to ideas as she is, however his only conflict is between the idea of "true love" and that of the "doomed loner." She doesn't realize that by calling the police she has given him a way to reconcile them. This is also a conflict of ideas well established by film noir protagonists, which Michel is certainly aware of, as evidenced when he bemoans always choosing the wrong girl. He is conflicted, but unlike Patricia, welcomes the conflict as it fulfills his chosen character.
Each of the characters chooses between grief or nothing. Michel, true to his word, chooses nothing and dies in the street receiving it. His seeming nonchalance in the face of the police closing in around him, might indicate that he'd chosen it all along. Does he really think that Patricia will go to Rome with him? Probably not, but he has to behave as if there's no other outcome possible, in all or nothing fashion. Death is the ultimate nothing, no complexities to struggle with. Patricia chooses grief, her state from the time we meet her. All of her extremes ultimately can't overcame her need for a safety net. She lives as an expatriate in Paris, yet her parents send her money. She speaks of a woman's independence, but uses her femininity as a shield. She wants to think but doesn't know what to think about. She gets swept up in adventure, but then corrects herself when she feels too free. Michel calls her a coward, using the lighting of a cigarette as the test. She admits that she's scared, but Michel's test is biased, as he has already given up. "an informer informs, a burglar burgles..." he says an attitude which allows for little interest in your own life. Michel can always light his cigarette because the way he lights it is something he's practiced in the mirror a thousand times or more.
But aside form the analytical, Michel and Patricia are simply young, stupid, naive and in love. They haven't accepted that there is any more to life than their ideals, even if they don't know exactly what they are. Love is playing second fiddle to self obsession and neither really gets that they are not the center of the universe. As Patricia says "When we talked, I talked about me, you talked about you, when we should have talked about each other.” Yet, even this idea is something of a novelty. As we see from their conversations they explore the surface of ideas, but never apply them. content to have said siomething that sounds meaningful, but unlikely to apply it. They flirt with ideas as they do with each other, as likely to entertain as dismiss them depending on the moment.
The unpredictable energy in Godard's shooting helps us feel how alive they are, as if there's nothing more important in the world than a few hours in a hotel room, finding money for dinner, or the momentary flash of a woman's neckline, while reminders of mortality happen all around them. Any moment could be the important moment, as long as you're alive. But love can cloud everything, although they likely wouldn't complain, as it leads Michel to his nothing and Patricia to her grief. It's sad that it never occurs to them that there may be more than two choices.
Monday, November 8, 2010
We see reactions from different crowds watching the news, as well as different reporters including Peter Jennings, telling the same story. German security starts moving in but backs off when the leader warns them. Black September changes demands, adding a demand to be moved elsewhere. We see the press packed in outside the stadium frantic for the story. A helicopter arrives to escort them. The news reports that two groups of hostages have been moved. A report goes out that all hostages are safe and we see the change from terror to relief as family members watch the news. An amended report goes out that there was a battle at the airport, all hostages were safe, and the terrorists were all dead from German gunfire. A final corrected report comes out that two hostages were killed in their room, and the remaining nine were killed at the airport. The Olympics pauses to observe the team and the funerals in Israel are predicted to draw tens of thousands of mourners. As the names of the 11 members of the team are called out individually on the news, a man assembles 11 pictures of Arabs, to match the number of Israeli dead.
Avner (Eric Bana) a Mossad agent, watches the news. We see the Mossad and the military meeting with Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) to plan their course of action. The eleven photographs are given as an idea, eleven Arab targets to match the eleven athletes. Meir says "We say to these butchers, if you don't want to share this world with us, then we don't have to share this world with you. There's legitimacy for this am I correct?" One of the military personnel urges against the action, stating that they sent fighter jets to guerrilla training camps leaving more than 60 dead. He state "That's a response." It's argued by others that guerrilla training camps don't get the world's attention. The head Mossad agent, General Zamir (Ami Weinberg) also states that the eleven targets are all responsible in some way for the murders. Meir says she's made a decision saying responsibility is entirely hers, and dismisses the meeting.
A car, containing General Zamir, is sent to pick up Avner and bring him to Jerusalem. Avner seems impressed to see him, telling him that he swore him when he joined Mossad. Zamir doesn't remember but adds, "But of course I knew your father." He's brought before Golda Meir, and they discuss that it's been two years since he worked for her. He's then introduced to General Yariv (Amos Lavi), General Nadav, (Sharon Alexander) and Mike Harari (Mashe Igvy) General Zamir remarks, "The chief of the Mossad,two generals and the prime minister, obviously,it's important. They the inform him that they want to offer him a mission which will be very dangerous, possibly require him to leave the country for years and be unable to discuss it with anyone including his wife. Avener doesn't respond, perhaps stunned by the idea, and one of the Generals says "Now you should say something." He answers "So this isn't about guarding tourists on El Al jets?" laughing although the others are quite serious. Meir mentions that she missed the athlete's funerals because her sister died, which disappointed the world "but family matters." she says. She adds that he was one of her favorite bodyguards as she likes "neat, durable men" He suggests that she liked having the son of a hero around, but she counters that he looks like his mother. Meir asks about his wife, knowing that she's expecting, and Avner tells her that she's seven months along. With that she leaves them,the Generals leave, Zamir talking with Aver before he goes, to tell him "Tomorrow morning. If you can't decide in one day...you can't decide."
With the Generals gone, another man speaks to Avner, informing him that Maeir didn't go to the athlete's funerals because many were angry that she didn't negotiate with Black September, and she didn't want to be booed. "It's good you didn't ask question. You'll say say yes." he says and introduces himself as Avner's case manager Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush)
Avner spends some time in bed with his wife. He makes a comment suggesting he'll be around when the baby is born and she says "Don't worry about it. You won't be around...Will you?" She tells him to make sure whatever it is, to make sure he gets a raise ads she needs things for the baby. Avner tells her "I can't live with refusing this." She smirks and says "Your mother, she knew what she was doing. She abandoned you on that kibbutz.
Avner: She didn't abandon me. My father was missing. He was in prison. She was overwhelmed.
Daphna: Oh yes.
Avner: She did what anybody would do.
Daphna: Yeah, so she took you to the kibbutz and abandoned you. Now you think Israel is your mother.
She tells him she'll "go along with it until she doesn't."
The next morning as part of the mission, Avner has to resign from Mossad, forfeiting medical benefits, pension, and any affiliation, and must take the assignment without a contract. He's instructed to open two bank accounts, one for operating funds, and the other for his salary, which he's not to take until the end of the mission. He's also to open a salary account for each of the men working for him. The operational funds account will contain $250,000.00, which is replenished as it's taken out. Ephraim tells him that they may send messages through the operational account box and he can send them the other way as well although "there shouldn't be any messages." His wife will receive $1,000.00 a month as well.
Ephraim tells him that all eleven names are in Europe. He restates that to them he doesn't exist. He tells him that he can ask questions now if he likes. He learns that he'll have four men and he will be team leader, one of the men can make bombs, which Ephraim states is preferable to shooting. Avner asks why he was chosen, as he's not an experienced field operative. He deduces for himself that the main reason is that he isn't known, and being raised in Frankfurt, knows his way around Europe. Ephraim adds "You're ordinary. You're not a sabra Charles Bronson." His ordinariness leads them to believe he won't "shoot bellhops" or innocent people. He adds "The hard thing will not be finding them. Some of them, anyway, are not so carefully hidden. The hard thing will be not punishing yourselves by getting caught or getting killed."
Avner gets on a plane and we see a flashback of the Olympic scene play out with many of the athlete's getting killed during Black September's takeover of the room. Avner finds the deposit boxes and takes funds before going to meet his team. Avner makes dinner for them and they get acquainted. Steve (Daniel Craig,) the driver, asks if anyone has any experience as he "just joined Mossad 10 days ago" It's revealed that Hans (Hanns Zischler) is a document forger, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a toymaker, who can make bombs, and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) is an ex soldier. Avner tells them his wife is expecting in a couple months, prompting Robert to ask if they'll be done by then, which Avner doesn't answer. Steve assumes that the mission is to kill one man, Ali Hassan Salameh, who is thought of as the planner of the Munich attack. "We're here to kill the guy that planned Munich, am I right?" Avner again doesn't answer. Carl remarks "It's strange, isn't it, to think of oneself as an assassin." Avner responds, saying "Think of yourself as something else then." They have a nice dinner and seem to enjoy each other's company.
Avner calls a friend, Andreas, who invites him over. Andreas' girlfriend Yvonne is pondering the philosophy of dealing with right and wrong as ethical questions, speaking in German, which doesn't seem to engage either of the men. Avner tells them that he's working for Americans. "Rich Americans?" Andreas asks. Avner shows them $60,000.00 which Yvonne takes. She seems surprised that there's so much money. Avner explains that there are some names of people he needs to find. Yvonne questions Avner again to make sure it's Americans he's working for. He points to a bill and says "See? James Madison." Andreas introduces Avner to Tony (Yvan Attal) to help locate the people. Avner is hesitant to reveal the names, but Tony says "I trust you. You carry cash and you don't make speeches." insisting that he can't help if he doesn't know who he's looking for. Avner names some of the Arabs on the list. Tony tells him he wants $60,000.00 per name, which Avner agrees to if the information is good. Tony tells him that one of men on the list, Wael Zwaiter (Makram Khoury) is in Rome with them. Louis also reveals that Zwaiter is due to give a reading from a poetry translation he'd done, also that he's broke, and calls a niece every day. Tony also tells him he can assist with other details such as cars and supplies. Andreas gets concerned that Avner is "trying to join the PLO." Avner tells him not to speak a word of any of it as he doesn't want him hurt.
Avner's meets with his team and they draw straws, Robert drawing the short straw. Zwaiter is giving a talk to a small group on his reasons for translating "The Thousand and One Nights" into Italian. The team watches him leave when his talk concludes and follows him. Avner and Robert confront him in his apartment building, confirming his identity. Avner asks "Do you know why we're here?" They both nervously shoot him and Steve drives them away. Carl goes to the scene when they're done and "cleans up." removing evidence that would get them caught.
Avner tells Carl that they're celebrating, but Carl isn't interested.
Carl: That old Pesach story. The angels are rejoicing because the Egyptians have just drowned in the Red Sea.
Avner: I didn't say we're rejoicing. I said "We're celebrating."
Carl: And God said to the angels, "Why are you celebrating? I've just killed a multitude of my children."
After Hans tells Avner what it cost them to kill their first target, Avner turns back to Carl and says
"You didn't finish your story. The angels respond to God. They say "God, we're celebrating because when the people hear what happened to the Egyptians they'll understand your point.
Carl: Which was?
Steve: (stepping in) Don't fuck with the Jews.
Avner meets with Tony, who introduces him to Louis (Mathieu Amalric) who tells him that as long as he's not working for any government, he can find him anyone he likes. He tells Avner that his business is "ideologically promiscuous. I love everybody, hate everybody. I get my feelings confused." but reassures him that he only pays if they find someone for him. Avner sticks with his "working for rich Americans" story.
Avner and his team see on the news that terrorists hijacked a plane to arrange the release from the Germans of the three surviving Munich gun men. he Germans agreed and the gunmen were set free in Libya. Seeing the homecoming celebration for the terrorists, Steve remarks "No qualms about rejoicing on their side, eh?" Seeing one of the men interviewed refusing to admit he shoot anyone, Steve suggests they go kill them,but Avner,says they'll stick to the list and they can't go to Arab countries. A reporter asks the gunmen "DO you feel you achieved anything with the Munich operation?" and one of them responds "We have made our voice heard by the world."
To reach their next target, Robert poses as a reporter to interview Mahmoud Hanshari (Yigal Naor) about the Munich attack. Hanshari tells Robert "We are for twenty four years, the world's largest refugee population. Our homes taken from us. Living in camps, no future, no food. Nothing decent for our children.
Robert: And so, was the attack in Munich justified?
Hanshari: The PLO condemns attacks on civilians. Though for 24 years...
Woman: Tell your newspaper that!
Hanshari: ...our civilians have been attacked by the Israelis day after day.
Woman: Tell them about all the years and years of Palestinian blood spilled by Israel. And who mourns for us?
Hanshari: You know Israel just bombed two refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. 200 people killed.Right after Munich they did this.
Woman: It did not begin in Munich. And where does it end? How will it ever end?
Robert tells them he needs to use their phone to call his editor. While the two squabble in French over what they told "the reporter" Robert gets details on the type of telephone, although he's interrupted by a little girl who comes in and plays the piano. The team comes back into the building when no one's around dressed as repairmen and they outfit the phone with an explosive to be set off remotely. Carl questions Avner about what Hamshari did, asking if they showed him evidence in Tel Aviv. Avner tells him he didn't ask for evidence as he believed them. The remote has a red light which comes on when the phone is picked up, and is then to be detonated by turning a key in the device. Avner watches the building from across the street for Hamshari to be at home, while Carl is in a phone booth ready to make the call and the rest of the team sits in the car waiting for the red light. A truck pulls up and Avner is concerned that it might block the signal from the car to the phone. While Avner runs to check on this with Robert, he misses the little girl coming home. Carl dials the phone and the girl picks up, turning the light red. Carl runs to stop the key from being turned getting to the car just in time. They see the girl leave soon after and Carl asks "Are we on or off?" Avner doesn't answer but the phone rings and Hamshari picks up. After confirming that it's he who answers, it blows up., blowing out the window. Hamshari end up in the hospital rather than dying instantly, although he does end up dying from his wounds.
In the news, there's a report of a letter bomb which kills an Israeli in the Israeli embassy in London. He's told it's Black September's doing in reaction to their kills.Avner visits Israel to see his baby born. He tells Daphna he's setting her up in New York so he can see her more while he "does what he's doing." Daphna tells him that Israel is their home. He responds, "You're the only home I ever had." which results in her making fun of him for being corny.
The team soon finds the next target, Hussein Abad al-Chir (Mostefa Djadjam) and they plan to kill him in his hotel room and notice his room is next to Israeli newlyweds.Avner gets a room on the other side of the target. Carl is concerned that the explosive may be too powerful and injure Avner, or the newlyweds. Robert assures them it won't. Avner agrees to switch off his light when he sees Hussein Abad al-Chir get in bed as the signal to detonate the bomb. Avner makes small talk with the target on the balcony. When Avner turns out the light the explosion is much more powerful than planned, injuring the newlyweds as well as Avner. They question Robert about the explosives and he insists that Louis must have given him a different grade than he asked for. The team then questions Avner about trusting Louis, when he has no idea who he is, but Avner defends his loyalty, stating they'd be nowhere without him finding the targets.
Avner asks Louis about the explosives and he insists that he gave them exactly what they asked for. He informs Avner that he's found three targets.Kemal Adwan, Kamal Nasser, and Abu Youssef, all of them in Lebanon. Avner offers to pay him extra for the names which prompts Louis to remind him that the information is not for use by any government. Avner insists that he doesn't work for any government, but Louis tells him "You have no idea who you really work for. You really don't." He tells Avner that if he lies to him he'll be both unreachable and unhappy.The team meets with who tells them that they can't do as it's in the middle east and says they'll have the Army take care of it. Avner. however says they "won't allow it." as Army involvement would cost them Louis' assistance. Ephraim demands to know who Avner's source is. Carl reminds Ephraim that they aren't Mossad and don't work for him. Ephraim isn't happy but agrees to let them do the job, but accompanied by Israeli commandos. Some of the group dresses up in drag and they act like a group of friends out on the town until they get close enough to the target's security to shoot their way in. They storm in the compound and take out the three targets. Avner barely saves a teenager from getting shot and they escape while the remaining forces fire after them.
Avner reconnects with Louis who tells him that "Papa," his boss, would like to meet him. Avner tells Louis he wasn't in Beirut. Louis comments that the Israeli Army was "according to every newspaper on Earth" and finds it hard to believe that Avner stayed away after paying so well for the information. Avner tells Louis he needs to tell his men where he's going. "Louis tells him "You don't know where you're going. And you'll need to wear this." He shows Avner a blindfold. Avner declines saying it's ridiculous but reconsiders as Louis is leaving. When they arrive, the car is surrounded by children. Papa (Michael Lonsdale) is chopping up vegetables and asks Avner to help him cook. Papa asks Avner to show his hands. He comments that his hands are too big to be a master chef and adds "Well, we are tragic men. Butcher's hands, gentle souls."
Papa tells Avner to call him Papa, but Avner refuses saying he can't as he has a papa already. "And you're devoted to him?" Papa asks. Avner asks point blank if he's there because of Beirut. Papa answers "Your Papa must be proud of his son." Papa remarks on picking fruit that there are "so many people to feed..." Avner interjects "but they are your family so you have to feed them." Papa responds "Yes. We don't work with governments.
Avner: Louis said, but...
Papa: But you did what you did because you have to feed your family.
Avner has a meal with Papa's large family. Papa tells him a little of his own background at the table.
Papa: I blew up trains, bridges, trucks full of Germans during the war. My brothers were killed, my papa and my sister were both hanged. She was a young girl.
Daughter: Papa, the guest doesn't want to hear your war stories.
Papa: We paid this price so Vichy scum could be replaced by Gaullist scum and the Nazis could be replaced by Stalin and America. We stay away from governments.
Louis volunteers Avner to say grace and when Papa tells him he doesn't have to, Louis says a prayer, in which he thanks God for "clients who obey the rules." which makes them successful. Papa's family gets upset at Louis's "blasphemy" and Papa interrupts stating he doesn't merely do what he does for the money. Papa states "In my despair, I have fathered madmen, who dress like factory workers. but never do manual labor, who read nonsense and spout pompous bullshit about Algerians and who love nothing, not Algerians or French, or flesh and blood, or anything living. So I have sympathy for a man who can say, "I have a Papa" and who does what he must for his family.
Papa warns him before leaving against future infractions and reminds him that although he could have been Papa's son, he is not family, only business.
Louis drops Avner off, and tells him he has another name. Avner insists he wants Salameh. Louis insists that Salameh is untouchable and offers Zaid Muchassi instead stating that he's in Athens. Avner states that Muchassi is not on their list. Louis tells Avner that he replaced one of the targets that they killed, as Black September's KGB contact, and is much worse than the man he replaced. Avner asks Louis to arrange them a safe house in Athens.
Avner's crew arrives at the Athens safe house, which is a complete dump. Robert makes another bomb with a remote detonator but advises them that he's working with very old and unreliable supplies. The team is surprised later that night when a group of four PLO members show up at their safe house leading to a tense stand off. The team poses as a group revolutionaries from various countries. It comes out that the PLO members also paid a French man for a safe house. They all agree to observe each other's safety. Steve and one of the PLO members squabble over the radio, each changing the others music until Steve compromises by changing the station to one playing Al Green. Avner, and the PLO group leader discuss the Palestinian cause. Ali stating that the Arab countries will aid the Palestinians eventually because although they dislike the Palestinians, they like the Jews less, predicting that Israel will cease to exist.
Avner: This is a dream. You can't take back a country you never had.
Ali: You sound like a Jew.
Avner: Fuck you. I'm the voice inside your head, telling you what you already know. You people have nothing to bargain with. You'll never get the land back. You'll all die old men in refugee camps waiting for Palestine.
Ali: We have a lot of children. They'll have children. So we can wait forever. And if we need to, we can make the whole planet unsafe for Jews.
Avner: You kill Jews, and the world feels bad for them and thinks you are animals.
Ali: Yes. But then the world will see how they've made us into animals. They'll start to ask questions about the conditions in our cages.
Avner: You are Arabs. There are lots of places for Arabs.
Ali: You're a Jew sympathizer. All you Germans, you're too soft on Israel. Well, you give us money, but you feel guilty about Hitler. And the Jews exploit that guilt. My father didn't gas any Jews.
Avner: Tell me something Ali.
Avner: Do you really miss your father's olive trees? DO you honestly think you have to get back all that...that nothing? That chalky soil and stone huts. Is that what you really want for your children?
Ali: It absolutely is. It'll take a hundred years but we'll win. How long did it take the Jews to get their own country?
THey don't come to an agreement and Ali ends the conversation saying "Home is everything."
The team goes to work, placing the bomb in Muchassi's room. Muchassi arrives with several Russians whowait outside as Muchassi goes to his room. Avner tells Robert to trigger the bomb, although Robert is concerned whether Muchassi is alone in his room or not.Avner tells him to trigger it anyway. Robert does but the bomb doesn't work. Everyone is annoyed at yet another bomb problem. Hans gets out of the car and heads into the hotel. Avner attempts to follow but turns around seeing the PLO members from the safe house walking out. Hans throws a grenade at the bomb and shuts the door so Muchassi gets killed.The Russians and PLO members pursue the team, Carl shooting Ali as they get away. Everyone is upset about the latest malfunction and Robert reveals that his training is defusing bombs, not building them.
Louis finally gives Avner Salmameh's location in London, revealing that Salameh has an agreement with the CIA, who pay him for not harming American diplomats. Avner wants to know if the CIA knew about Munich beforehand, but Louis tells him that Munich is the only reason the CIA knows that Black September exists. A news report about another Black September action plays while they talk and Louis remarks that they've been busy since Munich, adding "Europe hasn't been this interesting since Napoleon marched to Moscow."
The team heads to London and starts observing Salameh. He travels with guards constantly. They discuss that since the guards are armed, whether they count as civilians. Carl starts discussing all the bloodshed they've caused and laws they've broken. Hans tells him the discussion is counter productive and Steve needles him saying they should "check that he's circumcised." This cause Carl to lunge at Steve, yelling about the son he lost and all he's done for Israel. Hans suggests that Carl ask to be reassigned "if this is so distasteful." Carl asks " Why, it's not distasteful to you?" Steve answers "No, because the only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood." Steve also remarks to Avner "Nice job leading," prompting Avner to declare that since the guards are armed they kill them too.
They observe Salameh walking with his guards in the rain and approach from different directions, with Steve waiting in the car. As Avner is about to reach Salameh, some Americans stop him, one of them exclaiming that he recognizes him as "Roger Burke." and getting into a small altercation with him, while Salameh walks right past. Later that night, Avner is taken with a woman, Jeanette (Marie-Josee Croze) at their bar, and while clearly finding her attractive he turns down her proposition to go to her room, electing to go to bed alone instead. Leaving her at the bar, he runs into Carl, who is on his way in. Carl and Avner speculate on whether the Americans were CIA. Carl throws out a number of theories and Avner tells him to relax. Each reveals that they didn't think the other would last. Carl tells Avner "If I can't kvetch, I can't do my job." He also tells him "I knew guys like you in the Army. You'll do any terrifying thing you're asked to do, but you have to do it running. You think you can outrun your fears, your doubts. The only thing that scares you guys is stillness. But everyone's overtaken eventually." Carl asks him to join him for a drink,but Avner insists he's going to bed. He warns Carl about "the local honey trap." telling him"You can't miss her.You don't want to." In his room Avner breaks down crying hearing his daughter on the phone.We see another flashback of the Olympic team being escorted to helicopters at the airport by the terrorists,which is cut off when Avner wakes up. He gets up and goes to Carl's room, smelling Jeanette's perfume, he remarks "You asshole, I saw her first." Realizing Carl's door is not completely closed, he lets himself in and finds Carl murdered in his bed.
Louis gives Avner information on Jeanette, telling him she's Dutch and at her house in Holland. Papa accompanies Louis and tells Avner that the information on Jeanette is free of charge, asking if Avner knows why it's free. Avner assumes it's so he'll be sure they were't involved in Jeanette finding his team. He tells Avner "We buy information for you from your enemies. This alerts them. You're not the only people looking for names. Avner responds, "You're telling me I'm being hunted now?" Louis answers "He's telling you, it's time to quit." Louis produces a photograph of Avner, presumably given them by someone trying to locate him. Papa says "Evil falls suddenly. Who can say when it falls?"
The team heads to Holland and finds Jeanette. On the way, Robert questions their mission:
Robert: All this blood comes back to us.
Avner: Eventually it will work. Even if it takes years, we'll beat them.
Robert: We're Jews, Avner. Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong.
Avner: We can't afford to be that decent anymore.
Robert: I don't know that we ever were that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn't make you decent. But we're supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. That's Jewish. That's what I knew. That's what I was taught. And now I'm losing it, and I lose that, that's everything. That's my soul.
Avner tells Robert to sit this mission out and he'll find him when they need him. Avner, Hans and Steve find Jeanette at home in a bathrobe. They burst into her room and she realizes why they're there. She lets her robe fall slightly, hoping to distract them by exposing her breasts while she tries to subtly reach her pistol. It doesn't help her and they kill her with quiet improvised pipe guns. After she's dead Hans opens her robe to leave her exposed to whoever finds her.
Hans, Steve and Avner sit down for dinner. Hans points out the terrorist attacks that have started since they began their mission, pointing out that everyone they kill is replaced by worse. He questions whether Avner can stop when they finish the list. Hans regrets opening up Jeannette's robe and seems more solemn than usual. Later that night Steve comes to get Avner and tells him that Hans has disappeared. They walk the streets looking for him and eventually find him dead. Avner starts checking everywhere for bombs, including the phone and his mattress. Robert is working on bombs at his house and gets caught in an explosion, leaving only Avner and Steve.
Louis gives Avner Salameh's new location in Spain. Louis assures Avner that he had nothing to do with his troubles as he "pays better than anyone." He reasons that is Avner kills Salameh they'll let him go home and Avner believes he's right. Avner and Steve head to Salameh's heavily guarded compound and observe him with guests through the scopes of their rifles. A teenage guard sees them, and Avner kills him, missing Salameh, so they can escape. Avner is welcomed home by the military, the guards who pick him up tell him they're honored to meet him.
Ephraim debriefs Avner, telling him they have no problem with any of their actions except for Jeanette. Ephraim insists that Avner turn in the information on Louis, but Avner refuses, saying "It's about loyalty." He attempts to threaten Avner with a court martial, but Avner reminds him that he doesn't work for him or even exist. He visits his mother, who tells him she's proud of what he's done. He offers to tell her what he did, but she declines, saying "whatever it takes." to find "a place on Earth." Avner leaves to meet his wife in New York. Ephraim encourages him to take a leave and come back, but Avner just says "No."
Avner has difficulty settling into home life, sitting by himself with his gun,worried that people are looking for him and feeling guilty for the men on his team who died. Walking down the street holding his daughter, he believes a car is following him, although it doesn't threaten him. He calls Papa, who asks if his family is well. He offers to send Avner some cheese and tells him he's glad to hear his voice and thinks about him with concern. He calls Avner by his real name, which surprises Avner. Papa tells him "No harm will come to you from me." Avner thinks about the statement and suspects the Israelis of plotting against him. He heads to the Israeli embassy and tells the official there that he will not hesitate to kill children if they touch his child, and also threatens to tell the newspapers about what he's done. In bed with his wife Avner has another flashback seeing the whole scene where the athletes were slaughtered, which affects him viscerally leaving him in shock. His wife comforts him saying "I love you."
Ephraim comes to New York and sets up a meeting with Avner. He asks Ephraim if he committed murder, and for proof that the men he killed were involved with Munich. Ephraim evades the question and says "If those men lived Israelis die. Whatever doubts you have, you know this is true." He asks Avner "You think you were the only team? It's a big operation. You were only a part. Does that assuage your guilt?"
Avner: Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse.
Ephraim: Why cut your fingernails?They'll grow back.
Avner: Did we kill to replace the terrorist leadership, or the Palestinian leadership? You tell me what we've done.
Ephraim: You killed them for the sake of a country you now choose to abandon. The country your mother and father built, that you were born into. You killed them for Munich, for the future, for peace.
Avner: There's no peace at the end of this, no matter what you believe. You know this is true.
Ephraim asks Avner to "come home." Avner counters by asking Ephraim to come over for dinner to "break bread" with him. Ephraim looks at Avner sadly and answers "No." leaving Avner to walk towards home.
Munich is a movie which covers some difficult ground. As anyone who reads the news can tell you, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is very much alive and well today. The brilliance of this movie is that it only tells us the story through the actions of the men in the field, most notably Avner. Questions over who has the moral high ground are passed over in favor of the more immediate question, "Does taking an eye for an eye really accomplish anything?" Spielberg of course knows his craft. He's one of the renowned directors in the world for a reason. Telling the story through Avner's point of view enables us to examine the issue from his limited point of view and our perspective changes when his does.
Avner's team initially has what appears to be a black and white revenge mission. It's easy to sympathize with the cause when all that we know is that terrorists slaughtered the Israeli Olympic team. We see the strong world wide reaction, and growing out of that the rush to take action and send a clear equivalent message. Avner sees his mission as patriotism, and something he can't turn down. It's significant that Avner is "ordinary" and not a killer at all at the start, just a guy who wants to raise his family. The progression from nice guy, family man to jaded counter terrorist is a sensible one given the cause he believes he's working for. He's instructed to work like the terrorists do, not answering to the government, or checking in with Mossad. To anyone watching without a vested interest, Avner's team is as much a terrorist unit as any, "counter terrorism" only indicating that the actions are retaliatory. In someone else's country, such as America, Spain or London, the patriotism justification would presumably be unknown. His team is not sanctioned and "does not exist" If caught they would undoubtedly be tried as terrorists. We see that things are not as simple as they first appeared.
From the beginning, seeing ever amended news reports about the Olympic team's kidnapping, we know that perception can quickly change and can certainly be manipulated. Initial reports that all terrorists were killed by German forces is thrown into question later when Black September demands the release of the surviving members by taking more hostages. This tells us that not only was the media reporting falsely but that in certain circles, the terrorists survival was a known fact.
Patriotism is a long understood justification for terrorism and the question of who is a terrorist depends largely on where your loyalties lie. Those attacking your country are always terrorists to you. They regard themselves, like Avner, as patriots faithful to a greater cause, although this does not make the killing of innocents as an object lesson excusable, it's nonetheless an option entertained by every government.
Steve puts it into focus very well when he says "The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood." While the Israeli team does attempt to limit their killings to their list, incidental damage is unavoidable. Although their damage is not equal to kidnapping innocents and executing them, it does set them on that road. It's not insignificant that their first "unintentional harm" is an Israeli couple who just happen to be in a room too close to the action. When we learn later about Robert's (as well as the rest of the team) inexperience, we can only be amazed that more innocents were not killed. They continue nonetheless, regardless of consequences, they are patriots defending their "home." And, patriotism after all is just a fervent loyalty to "home"
Papa and Louis' organization is pivotal to this story. Their philosophy of not working for any goverment whatsoever is perhaps shown to be the most air tight philosophy of all. Papa has built a "home" in a concrete sense, living on a vast estate surrounded by his entire extended family. He doesn't need to view a country as home, because he has his own home within reach. He points out the difference between loving "flesh and blood" and "an idea" which allows him to sympathize with Avner's loyalty to his own family. The PLO group's leader at the safehouse, Ali, debates Avner along similar lines, although interestingly, Avner ends up arguing along Papa's lines. He tries to point out to Ali, that the bloodshed he calls for is for an idea and not an actual thing, but is unable to reach any agreement. Ali presenting himself as one who knows the importance of home to a people, yet is without one.
If we strip away blind patriotism, we are left with loyalty. We see that Avner's sense of loyalty is a constant, and a need for him, although it changes it's focus as the story progresses. Initially his main loyalty is to Israel, which his wife surmises, he sees as "his mother." In the wake of the brutal terrorist attack it's easy to understand why he responds so strongly. His country has been hurt. Avner, however has other more concrete loyalties, to his team, to his family, and to Louis and Papa. Initially he accepts the list given to him by Ephraim even defending himself to Carl who asks if he saw any proof that the men on the list were really involved in Munich. Avner states he didn't need proof, he just trusted them. But seeing the difference between checking names of a list and killing flesh and blood people, he grows more skeptical amd becomes less loyal to the "ideas" and more loyal to his own people. This is illustrated well by Avner, Steve and Carl undertaking the assassination of Jeanette, an action as direct as their "Munich retaliation" was supposed to be. She killed one of "them" and except for Robert, they have no hesitation to act. It's interesting that Robert chooses this point to have hesitations. The straight forward nature of the action shows him that their mission, even in it's purest form is not "righteous." Undoubtedly he also realizes this about their greater mission as well. His assesment that "Jews don't do wrong because their enemies do wrong" strikes a question mark at the core of their mission. Pointing out that to be a Jew and to be Israeli are not the same thing. Israel is a government, which like any other is primarily interested in continuing it's own existence. To be Jewish, to Robert, is a way of living to aspire to, and to be righteous is greater than to be right.
The fact that each of their targets is replaced immediately by a more dangerous person, and that each of their targets is followed by a more brutal action by Black September is ultimately obvious to them all, although only Steve and Avner live to see this completely. When he asks "Did we accomplish anything?" to Ephraim at the end, we also wonder. Avner suspects that his government used Munich as a motivator to eliminate Palestinian targets, a guess which Ephraim does not deny. Ephraim's response validates Avner's wavering loyalty, and when Ephraim refuses to "break bread" with him, it confirms to Avner that yes, he is a murderer. Ephraim asks him to "Come home." to Israel, but Avner is unmoved. having by now realized that the idea of home is a far different thing than a flesh and blood home.
Spielberg constructs an intricate world, sparing no detail, and while he asks many questions, he wisely avoids handing out any answers other than the smallest ones, of loyalty and betrayal, and the difference between a government and a family. The performances are all masterful, Bana in particular is amazing in showing Avner's progression from an eager Israeli, to a traumatized skeptic watching for danger around every corner. Daniel Craig is great as the steadfast Steve, who doesn't ask deeper questions, content to act out his patriotism. I really enjoyed Ciaran Hinds as Carl, the conscience of the group, who is also the most competent and weathered. The questions are second nature to him, yet not easily entertained by the others. It's fitting that he is the first one killed.
Munich is a world where everyone's actions are justified to themselves. Everyone is fighting for their idea of "Home." which we can't argue is not important. We can conclude that a never ending series of retaliation doesn't seem likely to get anyone any closer to realizing it. At the same time it's difficult to advocate tolerating brutal attacks on your nation. If Avner and his team had proof that their mission was in fact a direct attack at those truly responsible for Munich, we'd have a very different movie. But governments don't always have clear agendas or feel compelled to be forthright other than to further their own interests. The governments reasons no doubt made sense to them, but loyalty to the people enforcing a governments's policies, is not easily won back when lost. Patriotism is an idea, and not a true "home" Avner takes a long way to realizing the difference between the idea of home, and the flesh and blood actuality. To me the overriding theme of Munich is best stated by Carl's story (before Avner "corrected" it)
Carl: That old Pesach story. The angels are rejoicing because the Egyptians have just drowned in the Red Sea.
Avner: I didn't say we're rejoicing. I said "We're celebrating."
Carl: And God said to the angels, "Why are you celebrating? I've just killed a multitude of my children."