This review of the Netflix film Munich: The Edge of War does not contain spoilers.
Director Christian Schwochow’s adaptation of the Robert Harris novel Munich is one of those movies that doesn’t need to draw a gun to create suspense and palpable tension. This film, like the book, explores a speculative history of what may have happened during what many see as the disastrous peace talks during the 1938 Munich Agreement. It’s the type of work that will invite to criticism but will protect itself from it by freely admitting its alternative takes which are a work of fiction. In addition, Munich: The Edge of War has some modern theories from scholars now coming forward on one of the film’s main topics.
The subject is Neville Chamberlain (Watchmen’s Jeremy Irons). At the time, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was dealing with an annoying little man with a chip on his shoulder. Adolf Hitler (Downfall’s Ulrich Matthes) is about to invade Czechoslovakia. This gives a young German diplomat, Paul von Hartmann (I am Karl’s Jannis Niewöhner) that he needs to stop him. (This appears to be the start of Operation Valkyrie). However, Hitler was convinced to attend the peace talks, which delayed the uprising.
Paul, however, has a trick up his sleeve. He comes across overwhelming physical evidence of the Führer’s plans. Not only plans to invade the lands of the Bohemian crown, but all of Europe. Even the world. He wants Chamberlain not to sign the treaty, so he contacts his young aide, Hugh Legat ( 1917 George MacKay), with whom he had once been friends at Oxford six years previously. (Apparently, even Nazis deserve a quality education). They fell out because of Paul’s fanatical enthusiasm for Hitler’s German pride parades. This eventually led to fascist tendencies and policies that harassed German Jewish citizens.
It is important to note that Munich: The Edge of War is not a revisionist history, as Once Upon a Time… In Hollywoodas much as it is speculative. Chamberlain, a character who died in disgrace for the outbreak of World War II but was later granted a reprieve by modern scholars, has his actions explored by Harris and screenwriter Ben Powers (The Hollow Crown) here. At the same time, Irons plays Chamberlain as the audience perceives him: aloof, like England’s Ronald Reagan. Even camera hungry. So while many thought Hitler’s signing of a joint declaration was a sign of weakness, there was a purpose behind it. This gave England political clout to declare war later if necessary. And maybe attract bigger powers, like the United States.
This makes the story interesting, but Schwochow’s film becomes gripping, even thrilling, like a thriller against time. This is mainly due to MacKay’s Hugh and Niewöhner’s Paul creating tension and suspense with a cat-and-mouse game with implications for the fate of the world hanging in the balance. MacKay, who seems to find himself in movie after movie of him traveling long distances to deliver important messages to the authorities, is so perplexed here that his performance becomes biting.
However, Niewöhner’s selfless and passionate von Hartmann gives the film’s star performance. As soon as he walks on the screen, you see a movie star. I’m sure the team that made him look like a Tom Holland lookalike helped, but he’s the heart and soul of the movie. His final scene, lamenting a missed opportunity, is haunting. (It is important to remember that both of these characters are fictional).
Ultimately, this is fact-based historical fanfiction about sacrifice and the common good. The difference here is that by abandoning facts and indulging in speculation, Munich: The Edge of War creates real suspense and becomes an exciting wartime battle of wits in the process.
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