Sunday, January 01, 2006

Movie Report: The Ringer and Munich

Pairing "The Ringer" and "Munich" in a movie double header may seem like an odd juxtaposition, but there are some common threads besides the fact that I saw them both on Saturday, with members of my family who are in town for the holiday.

"The Ringer" is a Farrelly Brothers creation. They are known for movies like "Dumb and Dumber," "Me, Myself and Irene," and "There's Something About Mary." "The Ringer" has a typical Farrelly premise. Steve is a failure in his job, and in order to raise money (you don't want to know why he needs to raise money) goes along with a scheme concocted by his slimy uncle to pretend that he's retarded in order to enter the Special Olympics. The thinking (if the word can be stretched to that meaning) is that any normal person can beat "a bunch of retards," and his uncle will bet heavily that the five-time champion of the Special Olympics won't be able to retain his title.

The surprising thing about the movie is that despite the political incorrectness of its premise and plot, the Farrelly's display a real affection for developmentally disabled people and expose some of the unthinking ways that even well-meaning people discriminate against them. When is the last time you actually saw developmentally-disabled people in a movie? And, it turns out, they may have some skills (like spotting phonies) that are better than those of so-called "normally-abled."

The movie passes up on some obvious jokes, even leaving out some hilarious scenes that my son tells me were in the South Park cartoon episode from which the movie was apparently lifted. This is not a "must-see" movie, and it is a "shouldn't see" movie for people with tender consciences. But it isn't as bad as one would expect, and it is definitely different than the usual Hollywood comedy, so I gave it an average rating, or three stars.

Since "The Ringer" was going to be over about 15 minutes before "Munich" started, the plan was to theater hop from one to the other, seeing both on the same admission ticket. Unfortunately, when it actually came time to slip into the second theater, my tender conscience wouldn't let me do it, so I went back out and bought new tickets for my son and me. Whether some others in our group got the two-for-one deal, I won't say.

"Munich" is about the aftermath of of the 1967 Olympic games in Munich, Germany where a gang of terrorists took hostages and all of the terrorists and hostages wound up getting killed at the airport. The Israeli government hired an off-the-books team to track down 11 people who they thought had some responsibility in planning and carrying out the attack, and kill them. It, too, is not for the faint of heart as it portrays a lot of violence, but the violence, for the most part, was not what I considered gratuitous, but is essential to telling the story.

The twist in this movie, which literally comes more than halfway through, is that it is not just a violent thriller, but that it raises questions about the effectiveness of the tactic of hunting down and executing the perpretrators of the Munich massacre. Avri, the leader of the hunters, comes to the realization that for each terrorist they kill, six more spring up to take their place. He starts questioning his handlers whether they are absolutely sure that every person he has tracked down, actually had a part in the Munich operation. And he wonders why they couldn't have just arrested them and taken them back to Israel and put them on trial, like they did Eichmann.

The critics love this movie, which normally puts me in a skeptical frame of mind. Although big names like Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner are connected with its production, the movie is a good movie, better than average, but its violence keeps me from giving it the top rating. I think it's worth four stars.


Anonymous said...

I plan to see Munich among other recommendations but I don't seem to find the time.

I recommend The Squid and the Whale, an autobiographical black comedy (I have discovered that "black comedy" means that you probably won't laugh and if you do you'll feel a bit uncomfortable doing so) about an intellectual family making adjustments in their lives in a divorce situation. My idea of your sense of humor is that you'll like this movie. It's a good movie, really, but I have an odd appreciation for this sort of dysfunctional story line. Becky

PG said...

As an "uneducated Amish boy" (your words), you should have made a serious attempt to find a link between these two movies, other than the fact that you saw them on the same day and were too pure to do so on a single ticket. I'm sure there is something. For example, how do mentally disabled people respond to violence? With more violence? Or do they recognize more easily than "normal" people the futility of violent competition? You shouldn't worry so much about star ratings. They may indicate how much you like or dislike something (in other words, are about you rather than the film); they don't give us anything thoughtful to chew on. And stop dissing those who have accomplished or write for national publications. Spielberg and Kushner should not be blamed for their intelligence and craft. Other people would not have made such a thoughtful movie. Imagine had the Farrelley Brothers made Munich... Now, there's something to write about...

Amishlaw said...

Your thoughtful comments are always appreciated, p.g. I thought the Olympics connection between the two movies was so obvious that it didn't need further elaboration. I wouldn't presume to generalize about how developmentally-disabled people react to violence in comparison to "normal" people. There is apparently a tradition in Special Olympics races for the competitors to help each other up if one falls down. The "ringer" does learn something in the movie about how to treat other people, and goes back to help up his chief competitior. I suppose I could have used that incident to make some kind of indictment of the eye-for-an-eye policy of the Israeli government in Munich. Frankly, I think that would be a cheap shot. There are also developmentally-disabled people who are less able to control violent impulses than "normal" people, so, in fairness do I point that out when I make my comparison?

I would rather leave the preaching to the makers of the movies I report on, and simply report my reactions to the movies. Other people may react differently, which is fine.