One Day in September

1999 narrative documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Eight Palestinian terrorists, angry that they had put in so many hours training for a bobsled competition that didn't even exist because it was the summer games, kidnap some Israeli athletes and trainers and demand that an impromptu bobsled competition happen immediately. The media and German security helps them out but can't get the bobsledding set up in time to make them happy. Things end badly.

This is a suspenseful narrative documentary in the same vein as Man on Wire. Michael Douglas narrates, but he's used sparingly. I think he's almost completely unnecessary because when this story really connects, it's utilizing the actual images from the tragedy, the news reports, and the interviews with the family members of the victims and one of the terrorists. That last one there--one of the terrorists, a guy hiding somewhere in Africa--gives this documentary a little more force. Without that guy's perspective, the story would have been incomplete. It doesn't exactly make you sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but it does make the story more well-rounded. The news footage succeeds in supporting the idea that the media is filled with fools who often get in the way and do more harm than good. It's best demonstrated in the scene where the poorly-trained German security men dressed in 70s athlete garb are positioning themselves for a sneak attack-and-rescue mission, a mission that is thwarted because the terrorists are watching it all unfold on television. It's tragically comical. I really liked how this makes the story personal, especially with the interviews with the wife of one of the victims. It also makes it perfectly clear that the terrorists weren't the only bad guys in this story. They were the baddest bad guys maybe, but the ineptitude of the Germans in handling a crisis like this and the lack of sympathy displayed by the Olympic organizers (the decision to continue the games while all of this was happening) puts them in the bad guy camp as well. This succeeds because it manages to create all this suspense even though you know how it all ends. And despite already being given the knowledge that none of these people are going to survive, you still are forced to root for them, optimistic about their chances. I did get really annoyed during a montage of horrifying images set to some rock 'n' roll at the end. Completely unnecessary.

1 comment:

cory said...

As I get so much of my factual knowledge from movies, this film is one of my favorite docs. I was eight at the time, so I knew even less than I do now, but I remember the "feel" of the tragedy, and this movie does a great job of putting the viewer right back in that time...with it's drama and horror. Glad you liked it. Doc replacement: "The Times of Harvey Milk" about the San Francisco politician and the guy who ate too many Twinkies.