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Two Thrillers from MGM

21 Hours at Munich (July 5/09)

Though it premiered on American television back in 1976, 21 Hours at Munich generally comes off as an intriguing, surprisingly cinematic dramatization of the tragedy that befell the 1972 Olympic Games after a handful of Israeli athletes were held hostage by Palestinian terrorists. The movie primarily documents the behind-the-scenes efforts of various officials to resolve the crisis quickly and peacefully, with a particular emphasis placed on Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber's (William Holden) ongoing attempts at placating various bureaucratic organizations as well as the terrorists' ringleader (Franco Nero's Issa). Screenwriters Howard Fast and Edward Hume offer up a distinctly even-handed take on what could've been a thoroughly one-dimensional tale, as the two men effectively transform Nero's character into an unexpectedly sympathetic figure - with the conversations that ensue between Issa and a compassionate policewoman (Shirley Knight's Annaliese Graese) bringing far more depth to the proceedings than one might've initially anticipated. It's consequently not surprising to note that 21 Hours at Munich is at its best when focused on Issa's exploits, as the film is otherwise bogged down in the procedural issues surrounding the situation (ie Schreiber and his cronies must determine the best route for the terrorists and hostages to take to the airport). The climactic firefight that closes the movie is decidedly less-than-enthralling (and, given that it transpires in almost pitch darkness, difficult to clearly follow), however, and it's ultimately impossible to label 21 Hours at Munich as anything more than an agreeable curiosity - although, to be fair, the film is undoubtedly a vast improvement over Spielberg's nigh unwatchable Munich.

out of

The Betrayed (July 6/09)

The degree to which The Betrayed eventually establishes itself as a gripping, downright suspenseful thriller is admittedly quite impressive, as the movie suffers from a less-than-enthralling opening half hour that's almost aggressive in its uneventfulness. Filmmaker Amanda Gusack's decision to drop the viewer into as unappealing a situation as one could possibly envision proves instrumental in initially establishing an atmosphere of tedium, with the exceedingly deliberate pace ensuring that the movie doesn't really get going until the writer/director offers up some answers regarding the central character's perilous predicament. The Betrayed follows Melissa George's Jamie Taylor as she wakes up in a dilapidated warehouse after a car crash and eventually learns that she and her young son (Connor Christopher Levins' Michael) are being held by Alek (Oded Fehr), with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently following Jamie's efforts at tracking down the $40 million her husband apparently stole from a shady underworld type known only as Falco. It's an intriguing promise that seems as though it's going to be squandered by Gusack, as the frustrating lack of exposition at the outset results in a first act that's far from involving - with the grungy visuals and claustrophobic setting only exacerbating this feeling. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which the various pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, thus allowing the viewer to finally sympathize with Jamie's plight. It's also worth noting that the back-and-forth rapport between Jamie and Alek plays an instrumental role in The Betrayed's ultimate success, as both George and Fehr offer up stirring work that ensures the film is at its best when focused on the their characters' ongoing battle of wills. The inclusion of a few genuinely exciting sequences - ie Jamie races against time to successfully complete a money transfer - cements the movie's place as a slow-going yet satisfying endeavor, although there's little doubt that a few judicious trims here and there could only have strengthened the final product.

out of

About the DVDs: Both films arrive on DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment, although 21 Hours at Munich and The Betrayed come up empty in terms of extras.
© David Nusair