January 21st, 2022
MOVIE: MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR
STARRING: GEORGE MACKAY, JANNIS NIEWOHNER, JEREMY IRONS, LIV LISA FRIES
DIRECTED BY: CHRISTIAN SCHWOCHOW
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I’m often impressed when a movie can thrill me without kidnappings, explosions, or bank robberies, but instead, with tense conversations or the transferring of documents from one person to the next. That’s what Munich: The Edge of War does well. It’s not breaking the mold on spy thrillers, per se, but it does take a more precise direction, writing, and kind of acting to make a movie of this style work. Similar to how The Courier did it last year, with Benedict Cumberbatch carrying the weight, The Edge of War gives us a slice of world history, with George MacKay steering the wheel, in this tense diplomatic drama. It’s about two friends, one British man, one German, and a bubbling war on the horizon.
The British man is Hugh Legat (MacKay), a member of British intelligence, and working alongside Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons delivering some great work here) in his cabinet. It’s 1938, post-WWI, where Hitler’s armies have been provoking a takeover of Czechoslovakia, and Chamberlain is searching for a diplomatic way of reaching a peace agreement between the countries. An emergency conference has been called, with a meeting set for Munich, with Legat set to help as a voice to guide Chamberlain in the talks. On the German side is Paul von Hartman (Jannis Niewohner), an old Oxford friend of Hugh’s, and a translator for Hitler’s cabinet, but underneath his cold demeanor, he is aware of the anger that Hitler holds. Along with a few other resistors, Paul relays a message to Hugh that he has classified documents that lay out Hitler’s plan, with no intention of ever holding back his goal of domination. The plan is to get the paper’s in Chamberlain’s hand in time to stop the peace agreements, risking life, all in the sake of stopping Hitler from ever being in power in the future.
Based on the international best-seller by Robert Harris, with the screenplay adapted by Ben Power, these are the kind of grown-up espionage films that I love. From spy thrillers by John le Carre, or the thrilling pace of a movie like The Firm, it takes a certain skill for a director such as Christian Schwochow to keep it engaging. The screenplay does the heavy lifting, with thrilling moments around every corner, as Hugh and Paul meet secretly in a pub to exchange the classified documents. It’s a scene reminiscent of Inglorious Bastards, as numerous Nazi soldiers flank them at other tables, where it’s a time in Germany where nobody can be trusted. It’s also a screenplay written with great use of hindsight, where the reality of what we know will happen may damper the thrill, and yet it heightents are wishes that things would succeed. MacKay and Niewohner deliver two performances that straddle the line of sweaty fear, steel courage, and never overselling their lines. They could play the characters as if each moment is more important than the next, but instead have us genuinely worried for their well being.
From a production standpoint, Munich is strong, with costume designs of tweed suits, and government halls draped in hideous Nazi garbs. The writing from Power and direction from Schwochow make the accurate decision with flashback conversations between Legat and von Hartmann, which sound like they could have taken place today. Before WWI, von Hartmann viewed Hitler as just a proud German, and someone that can put that pride in their country first. While Legat explains that his path is a tyrannical one and a person willing to scapegoat Jewish people to prop up German exceptionalism. It’s terrifying that it’s not a far reach to compare to today, where if it’s not called out, where a world of one party rule, or democracy dying in America is not outside the realm of possibility anymore.
The other part that works here is the general moment in history having a minor spin and because of that ramping up a consistently engaging drama. The performances all around are good, with Jeremy Irons playing Neville Chamberlain excellently, with his gravitas adding a touch to the air of the noble politician. He’s the centerpiece, with two men on the outside, both with information that could save lives, and the clock is ticking. Munich: The Edge of War is a sharp political thriller, teetering on the balance between diplomacy, and urgency. It’s the urgency part that makes being diplomatic even harder. The Edge of War might be all the proof you need.
MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ARRIVES ON NETFLIX JANUARY 21ST, 2020
Written by: Leo Brady