Review of “Munich — The Edge of War”: A messy counter-narrative

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As the world watches to see if Russia invades Ukraine, it can sometimes feel like 1938 all over again, when there was much international discussion about whether Hitler could be persuaded to avoid war over his plans to annex the Sudetenland in what was then Czechoslavakia.

Well, it’s actually 1938 all over again in ‘Munich: The Edge of War’, a historical thriller surrounding a worried England’s efforts to do something – anything – against the growing Nazi threat without triggering full-scale conflict. The film recreates those tense days when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) could hear the drums of war but sought peace on paper; he arranged a meeting in Munich with Hitler (Ulrich Matthes) to see if an agreement could be reached to avoid bloodshed.

But the focus of ‘Munich: The Edge of War’ – adapted from Robert Harris’ 2017 novel, and like many of its research-driven stories – isn’t on the names we know, but rather on protagonists. of the inner circle invented by the author whose relatives A plan view of the proceedings, as fact and fiction unfold, has the potential to change history.

In this case, it is an Englishman and a German whose academic friendship of the early 1930s soured in the face of the emerging political realities of the time, but who, years later, reconnect as like-minded souls about the grave danger that Hitler presents. Hugh Legat’s (George Mackay of ‘1917’) brief civil service career once led him to serve as private secretary to Chamberlain; MI6 sees an opportunity during the trip to Munich for him to clandestinely accept top secret information about Hitler’s true intentions from a well-connected German informant. That messenger turns out to be none other than Legat’s former Oxford pal Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner), now a diplomat whose disillusionment has caused him to secretly plot with other Germans on how to get rid of Hitler.

It’s not the easiest task to draw effective suspense from historical events whose outcome we know – a benchmark example would be ‘The Day of the Jackal’, in which rich detail, clockwork plotting and dynamic cinema completely erase the annoying spoiler that Charles de Gaulle was obviously never assassinated. But “Munich: The Edge of War,” chaotically directed by Christian Schwochow, is a particularly bad attempt. He wants to be a colorful nail biter, an important history lesson, and an unsettling friendship drama. But because Schwochow and screenwriter Ben Powers prefer to piece the components together rather than braid them into a cohesive whole, the film fails all three, straining logic (especially mishandled spycraft) and flattening emotion. at every turn.

Visually, it’s a mess. If your saturation level regarding hectic camera work and aimless cutting has been reached, “Munich” is particularly punishing, ruining almost every scene – quiet or even loud conversation, a bit of life-and-death espionage – with the one-size-fits – all the nervous ersatz of Frank Lamm’s photography and Jens Klüber’s editing. And that does most actors a disservice, even if one is driven to imagine a better movie built around Hartmann’s character, since Niewöhner’s overcooked turn at least feels bound to believable nervousness about what what it must be like to light up your country. Mackay, on the other hand, is oddly unremarkable for being so central to the narrative. The female leads, meanwhile, barely register — especially Jessica Brown Findlay’s snap of Legat’s wife and “Toni Erdmann” star Sandra Hüller’s ungrateful, underwritten Hartmann co-conspirator.

Irons’ portrayal of paternal accommodation and stubbornness for peace, however, benefits from a natural fascination with Chamberlain as a long-scorned symbol of senseless appeasement, and from the fact that the film is – as Harris’s book was – a measured reconsideration of the role he played in the run-up to World War II. Irons gives the kind of performance you want more of a window into the psychology of leadership, so the fact that he has to share it in such a boring slice of history as “Munich: The Edge of War” is unfortunate.

“Munich: on the brink of war”

In English and German with English subtitles

Unclassified

Operating time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Playing: Available January 21 on Netflix

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