Munich: The Edge of War movie review: they’ll try to thwart Hitler!

part of my On Netflix Globally series
MaryAnn’s quick take: Dull, earnest fanfic full of halfhearted secret-agent shenanigans and a misguided rethink of Chamberlain the appeaser. Same-old rote, by-the-number World War II–ing we’ve seen countless times before.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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I’m honestly shocked to discover that the Robert Harris novel — entitled simply Munich — that this tedious “thriller” is based on was published only in 2018. Because the primary reaction I had to its movie version is mystification at how dated it feels. This is the same-old rote, by-the-number World War II–ing we’ve seen countless times before, finding nothing new to say and with no diverting suspense to offer in a milieu that has been extensively explored onscreen and in pop culture overall.

A mix of fact and reality, Munich: The Edge of War focuses more on the made-up stuff than the genuinely historical stuff — and if Harris or screenwriter Ben Power thought that was a better way to go because we already know how the fact stuff ends, they should have invented a more gripping story. For what we have here is very earnest WWII fanfic about former Oxford chums Hugh Legat (George MacKay: True History of the Kelly Gang, Pride) and Paul von Hartman (Jannis Niewöhner). By 1938, the two almost indistinguishably bland young men find themselves on opposite sides of the brewing war, and also conveniently placed in positions of relative power and influence. Hugh is private secretary to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, while Paul works rather high up at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin. They had a falling out years ago, but now they will take it upon themselves to try to save Europe by thwarting Hitler’s nefarious plans for continental domination.

Munich The Edge of War George MacKay Jeremy Irons
“I say, Legat, what’s an eleven-letter word for appeaser? Starts with c…”

Hugh and Paul are fictional, but this is true: In September 1938, Chamberlain (and other European leaders not important enough, apparently, to bother with here) went to Munich to get Hitler to agree not to invade the Czech region of Sudetenland, as he had been threatening to do. It’s even true that there was a plot among some high-ranking Germans to arrest and possibly assassinate Hitler, with that illegal invasion as their reason to remove from power the madman they could see would be Germany’s downfall.

Any appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain would merely delay the inevitable, and Hitler was certainly not going to stop with Sudetenland, as he has promised; this was also true. So now Paul and Hugh, attached to their respective diplomatic delegations at the Munich summit, must engage in secret-agent shenanigans in order to get a highly classified document detailing Hitler’s actual plan for Europe, which has made its way into Paul’s possession, into Hugh’s hands, and then Chamberlain’s, so the PM can finally appreciate just how dangerous Hitler really is.

Munich The Edge of War Anjli Mohindra
All the interesting stuff women do here happens offscreen… unless they’re berating men for being so damn selfless and heroic.

Alas, it’s just dull, not even laughable, how casual these halfhearted spies are as they have meetings out in crowded public places and openly discuss their supposedly covert business in front of their diplomatic bosses. Director Christian Schwochow seems unaware of any potential danger, too: he’s not able to muster any suspense in these sequences, even when a third party does actually show up to get in the way. Paul insists to Hugh that they are “the last hope of stopping Hitler,” and yet there’s not a lick of urgency or tension in the proceedings.

The film looks elegant enough, even if Hugh and Paul are woefully underdeveloped (the few female characters are even worse). I’d say that the entire endeavor is fairly inoffensive, except for its apparent attempt to reimagine Chamberlain as a misunderstood hero playing 10-dimensional chess with Hitler instead of the naive appeaser historians have generally agreed he was. Jeremy Irons (Red Sparrow, Justice League) cuts a dashing figure as the prime minister — quite a contrast to Ulrich Matthes (Downfall, Winter Sleepers) as a positively sniveling Hitler, as if Adolf Hitler needed to be portrayed even less flatteringly than usual. And completely missing here is Chamberlain’s woefully miscalculated insistence that, with his agreement from Hitler in Munich, he had achieved “peace for our time.” I’m not sure anyone was looking for a rethink of Chamberlain, or that it is in any way warranted.

Munich The Edge of War Jeremy Irons
“You guys! He checked the box for no war. He likes us!”

In any case, perhaps the best thing this movie might have had going for it was a sense that intelligent young people who wanted to be optimistic about their futures were looking at their stodgy, hidebound elders, and those elders’ misguided attempts to fix the world, with total despair. That could have resonated today. But there’s nothing of the kind to be found here.

more films like this:
Inglourious Basterds [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV | Netflix UK]
Darkest Hour [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV | Netflix US]

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Thu, Jan 20, 2022 6:15pm

I think the historical image of Chamberlain suffers by comparison with Churchill’s very effective self-promotion, both at the time and later; there might be an interesting story to be told about the man who knew he had an impossible job but had to do it anyway within the constraints laid on him by parliament, diplomatic reality, and public opinion. But I guess this isn’t it.

(I’ve never been a fan of Harris, but the sales of his books suggest that plenty of people are.)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Sat, Jan 22, 2022 6:13pm

That famous photo of Chamberlain by the plane waving the paper always makes me think of Monty Python’s “deadly joke” sketch, which uses that moment to illustrate “Britain’s great pre-war joke.”

Steve Gagen
Steve Gagen
Fri, Jan 21, 2022 5:42am

Oh dear – doesn’t seem worth the effort of reaching out for the remote control to check this out! As ever, the fault is right at the beginning, with the script. The rest might be well cooked, but it’s still shit.

Fri, Jan 21, 2022 6:02pm

OMG! as soon as i read your headline blurb, i knew it was based on that *boring*, inaccurate, ridiculous “novel” by Robert Harris. meanwhile i spent quite a while trying to get hold of his “Fatherland”… once i read Munich, i couldn’t get into Fatherland. glad for the warning…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Sat, Jan 22, 2022 6:14pm

I’m pretty sure Fatherland is the only Harris novel I’ve read, back when it was new. I remember liking it… but I was a lot younger and less discriminating then.

Dom Cooper
Dom Cooper
Sat, Jan 22, 2022 10:25pm

At least Chamberlain turned up at Munich, and tried to avert war, and then ultimately declared war on Germany when that approach failed. Every American politician washed their hands of any involvement with Japan or Nazi Germany until attacked by one and declared war on by the other – and by that time most of the free world was either taken or fighting. So better to to try than not try at all and yes it wasn’t a bad film.

Daniela Bühler
Daniela Bühler
Sun, Jan 23, 2022 5:51pm

I don’t understand your negative assessment of the movie. It is actually quite topical – think of Putin on the verge of invading the Ukraine. Same situation. And it raises a timeless question: How do we deal with our enemies? Do we take risks and fight them or can they be dealt with in negotiations? These guys do “watch their elder’s misguided attempts to fix the world”, and they will go to war because of it. I don’t understand why that doesn’t resonate.

Kyle Laxton
Kyle Laxton
Fri, Jan 28, 2022 2:04pm

To those comparing Chamberlain and Churchill, they could not have been more different, in almost every way, however I do accept that timing has a lot to do with it as well. Personally I think the film portrayed the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s) very well. Little do some people-(the misguided and/or misinformed)-forget that Hitler was the devil, and those who raised a hand and or gun against him, not in the “Hail Hitler” kind of way, were HEROES and BADASSES. I was born into a family who has served honorably in just about every war since The Revolutionary War-(for those who don’t know, that is the war in which the colonies earned and won their independence to become the country that you like to take for granted)-who would and will say the same. You were not there and cannot say what you would or would not do in a situation like that. Just knowing that there were people, like the characters portrayed in Munich: The Edge of War, who tried to prevent or at least postpone the inevitable throat slit that was knifed into this world at that time, makes this flick one hell of a watch and teach.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Kyle Laxton
Mon, Jan 31, 2022 10:43am

Are you suggesting that someone who doesn’t love this movie loves Hitler?