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With: Michael Douglas (narrator), Ankie Spitzer, Jamal Al Gashey, Gerald Seymour, Alex Springer, Gad Zahari, Shmuel Lalkin, Manfred Schreiber, Walter Troger, Ulrich K. Wegener, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Schlomit Romajo, Magdi Gahary, Zvi Zamir, Dan Shillon
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
MPAA Rating: R for some graphic violent images
Language: English, German with English subtitles
Running Time: 92
Date: 10/22/1999

One Day in September (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One Day in September won the 1999 Oscar for Best Documentary and in the process trounced on the excellent films Buena Vista Social Club, Genghis Blues, and On the Ropes. That was the biggest shock to me while watching last year's Oscar fiasco, and so seeing One Day in September a year later, I couldn't help feeling just a little biased. In the end, I think it's a very good film, though I think it won its Oscar based on its subject matter rather than its filmmaking.

The film depicts an incident at the 1972 Munich Olympics in which Palestinian terrorists took eleven Israeli athletes hostage within the Olympic Village itself. It was an astonishing event, overwhelmingly heartbreaking, and horribly botched. As television cameras filmed the event live around the clock, attempts by the German police were thwarted because the terrorists were watching everything on TV. Later on, an effort to ambush the terrorists at the airport failed due to substandard communications (the snipers didn't even have headsets to communicate with each other).

One Day in September uses, to its advantage, tons of the TV footage from that day, as well as modern-day interviews with many of the participants, including the only living member of the terrorist group, and wives and daughters of some of the hostages. It also shows gruesome police photos of bloody and charred bodies, so the weak of stomach might want to think twice before seeing this in a theater.

I couldn't help thinking that the film, and its director Kevin Macdonald, missed out on the larger implications of this film. This was obviously the beginning of some new kind of mega-media machine that's so obtrusive it becomes part of the show. I can't say if the film would have benefited from some commentary on this subject. It might have come across as preachy.

Instead it comes across as good journalism, with a slight flair for the dramatic. Macdonald throws in a few rock songs here and there to accentuate the action, and it feels like a good choice. The songs add life and suspense to the proceedings. Michael Douglas' dramatic narration helps a great deal as well. One Day in September is not badly made; it's just not inspired.

At the Oscars, Macdonald and his crew made a comment about how the Academy did not go for the obvious choice in the documentary category. On the contrary, the political aspects of this movie make it a pretty typical Academy choice. It doesn't come even close to the level of joy, sorrow, and bitterness that accompanied the other three Oscar nominees. I admired One Day in September, but not enough to place it above those other films that affected me so much more.

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