'Munich: The Edge of War' review: Historic thriller tackles inevitable

Jeremy Irons and George MacKay star in dramatization of the days and events leading up to WWII.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The handsome and involving brink-of-WWII drama "Munich: The Edge of War" does a decent enough job of making viewers believe something they know happened might not happen. 

It's 1938 and Hitler is on the brink of invading Czechoslovakia. A pair of pals from Oxford University find themselves in the crosshairs of history: George MacKay (“1917") is Hugh Legat, an aide for British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), while Jannis Niewöhner is Paul von Hartmann, Hitler's foreign press secretary and a double agent trying to lead a resistance against the Führer. Can they pool their resources and somehow stop the war from happening? Of course note! But... maybe? 

George MacKay and Jeremy Irons in "Munich: The Edge of War."

Director Christian Schwochow makes a good show of things and keeps tensions high, despite our knowledge of historical outcomes. He makes "Munich" a story of loyalties, diplomacy and politics as usual, not to mention the difficulties of communicating in the days when private information had to be typed up and physically transferred from one person to another. A good argument is made here that WWII could have been avoided had text messaging been available. 

MacKay takes on a straight role, playing a sort of young apprentice to Irons' warm and grandfatherly Chamberlain, who sees Hitler as just another political opponent whose bark is worse than his bite. The story, based on Robert Harris' 2017 novel, ramps up to the 1938 Munich conference between Germany, the UK, Italy and France, where von Hartmann sees an opportunity, with Legat's help, to put a stop to what he sees as inevitable carnage. It leads to a rather breathless showdown where Schwochow nearly pulls an "Inglorious Basterds" on history and keeps viewers guessing along the way.    

Memorable supporting turns come from August Diehl, who plays nearly the same smarmy Nazi agent role he played (and played really, really well) in "Inglorious Basterds," and Ulrich Matthes, who is downright terrifying as Adolf Hitler. "Munich" doesn't take any unexpected turns, which makes its edge-of-your-seat developments all the more impressive. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Munich: The Edge of War'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13: for some strong language, thematic elements, smoking and brief violence

Running time: 123 minutes

On Netflix