Thursday, December 29, 2005

Movie Review: Munich

Title: Munich
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Director: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: R
Excellence: 2 stars
Summary in a sentence: Spielberg tries to justify the Palestinian resistance through being critical of the Israeli counter-attack. Asks questions, leaves no answers.

Okay, so Spielberg hasn’t been at the top of his game lately. I mean, The Terminal and War of the Worlds? But Munich is a disaster on an Olympic scale.

The story is the explanation of the Israeli reprisal for the murder of their athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. I don’t listen to talk radio anymore, so I can’t speak to what Spielberg’s press push with this was other than the isolated quote that this movie was his “prayer for peace.” If so, it was done in the same vein as the movie Paradise Now, which told a story from the Palestinian “side” of the conflict. Meaning "peace" as in Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" piece-of-paper-waving-peace on the way back from, ironically, Munich.

Such "peace" is really thoughtless and ultimately unwilling to come to grips with the fundamental essentially religious issues behind the Middle-East Crisis.

The protagonist, Avner (Eric Bana, of Hulk fame), who lives in the shadow of his father being a great hero, is a major leader of Mossad, the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. He is asked to carry out the murders of all the major leaders associated with the Munich massacre.

We see the story intertwined with implied fornication, unnecessary nudity, and unnecessary showcasing of marital sex. The movie doesn't need any of that, but Spielberg does his best to make sure that he puts a COMPLETELY unnecessary sex scene in almost every movie he does - e.g. the spider-search scene in Minority Report, the superfluous scene in Schindler's List, and the drive-by decidedly disappointing insert into Episode 10 of Band of Brothers. He does so here too, and the movie suffers immeasurably.

Two points to think about from this movie:

1. Steve (played by Daniel Craig, the new James Bond): "The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood."

This was the root of what allowed this "death squad" to do its hunting. 11 Jews had been murdered. Retribution must be exacted.

2. The poignant sequence in which a Palestinian and Israeli state the oft-repeated mantras of either side. Roughly:

Palestinian: We will continue to fight and show the world that the Israelis are simply occupiers. The world will wake up and see the Zionist conspiracy.

Israeli: We have numerical and military superiority. You are crazy to think you can defeat us.

Palestinian: Home is the only thing worth fighting for.

The discussion of those three lines not only in their historical context of 1972 but in 2006 bears note, but it would go far beyond what we are trying to accomplish in this review. My question to Spielberg is, is it really that simple?

I really only want to discuss two things, as since I rated this movie immoral I don't want to discuss too many details.

The death squad itself.

Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, looks over the photos of the perpetrators and says "I am hearing with new ears this morning" and utters the preposterous line "every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." Apart from the probability that Golda Meir never uttered such tripe, what is Spielberg trying to prove? That Jews can be as vindictive as Arabs?

As we watch the systematized murders, Spielberg does a devastatingly good job of pulling you into the web and pace of the chronology of the events - from Arvad's gun shaking as he sizes up the first man to be killed - from aborting an explosion to save the daughter of one of the targets - to buying the locations of his targets with hundreds of thousands of dollars - to Arvad's fidelity to his wife saving him from a femme fatale - to the final target that Arvad attempts to take out, but in that mission ends up shooting a 16 year old boy in the head.

What is Spielberg trying to accomplish?

What I have always resented about Steven Spielberg is his inability to trust his audiences. Always believing us to be infinitely stupid, he feels the need to tell us how to feel at the end of every movie. We see this in the end of E.T., Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and to a degree, Jurassic Park. Munich leaves you confused. For once, I would say, Spielberg doesn't hand us a box of kleenex - but is his message coherent?

The main character, Arvad, in essential self-imposed exile from Israel and living in the Bronx, asks what all his murdering was done for. All of the murdered have been replaced with newer, harder-line persons, and the cause has not been essentially been furthered. Furthermore, in a truly mixed-up point of the movie - we see interstitials of the murders of the Israeli athletes while Arvad is having relations with his wife after having been away for many years. All of the ideas are cut together - Arvad was simply "doing the job" to provide for his wife and kids - trying to stand up in his father's shadow - believing in the cause of the state of Israel - and feeling the desire to retaliate for the death of the innocent athletes.

If Munich is a "prayer for peace," as Spielberg calls it, it will not be a lasting peace. Spielberg conveniently ignores the deeply crisscrossing and contradictory claims that inhabit that part of the world - and just like Paradise Now, provides empathy without purpose, and sympathy without resolution.

Perhaps Spielberg should re-read the line that Arvad delivers - "there is no peace at the end of this" and realize that making a movie with ambiguous loyalties does nothing to further peace either.

True peace in that region of the world can only come through acceptance of the Man who graced a tiny town there with His Nativity. He is the Peace that surpasseth all understanding. And He is the only way out for that part of the world. Decades have not taught that lesson, and I fear war will not break through those skulls either.

And such a war, if we are to believe the headlines, will come within our lifetime.

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