He may be revered - and often reviled - for his sense of childlike wonder, but no Hollywood director shoots scenes of violence with the no-frills grimness of Steven Spielberg. In the helmer's taut, ambitious Munich - which focuses on Israeli retribution for the murders of nine of their athletes at the 1972 Olympics - Spielberg, as he did in Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, doesn't distance himself from the carnage on the screen, and doesn't let us distance ourselves, either. There's nothing self-consciously "artistic" about the numerous killings we're shown here; bullets tear through flesh with terrifying force, bombs rip limbs apart, and most of these atrocities are portrayed with an almost shocking matter-of-factness - we recoil from the violence because Spielberg's presentation of it is so intentionally artless. (The murders in Munich come off as almost painfully realistic.) Yet although Munich is a brutal work, it isn't brutalizing; Spielberg is too much of a natural showman - and natural entertainer - for that. The film is a riveting and intelligent political thriller, and although the director can't fully rein in his expectedly sentimental impulses, Munich is probably Spielberg's strongest directorial accomplishment in more than a decade. It's a gripping and, for Spielberg especially, refreshingly tough-minded piece of work.