Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


- Eric Bana's character watches the Munich hostage situation on tv

Stayed up too late watching a movie .... Munich, the 2005 film by Steven Spielberg, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, which tells the story of the real life Wrath of God operation. I hadn't been interested in seeing it when it first came out, but after having recently read the novels by Daniel Silva about art restorer/Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, the main assassin of that project, I thought it worth a watch.

It's hard to know what to say about the movie - there were many parts I disliked but some other parts were compelling. I did find the historical stuff interesting .... how Black September came to be, the Munich massacre, the release on demand by Germany of the surviving hostage takers when a Lufthansa aircraft was hijacked, and Golda Meir's authorization of the operation. The movie dwells mostly, though, on the details of the operation itself, and even more so on the moral ambiguity of, and moral devastation caused by the assassinations. No one was really good, no one was really bad, or actually everyone was alternatively both, and the members of the Israeli team were shown slowly deconstructing as they went about their grim task. One of the creepiest parts, I thought, was near the end when Eric Bana's character finally came back to Israel and visited his mother after having spent years tracking down and killing his targets while losing almost all his team, his faith in human nature, his moral compass, and his mind.... he asked her, so tentative and somewhere between hope and dread, if she wanted to know the details of what he'd done, but she just smiled brightly and told him nope, but not to worry, it had all been worth it - yikes!

- talking to mom

I've read that some critics of the film thought it was anti-Israeli for showing those involved in the Wrath of God operation as having qualms about it .... I don't know if those criticisms are valid or not, but I do know, and I'm not being flip, that while Gabriel Allon would not have undone what he'd done, he was never the same after having done it.

Here's part of a review of the film from Slate .....


Death of a Hit Man

[...] Steven Spielberg's Munich (Universal), from a script by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. Grim and tightly wound, the movie's tension unrelieved by warmth or humor, it turns on the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games, and on the Israeli government's alleged response, which was off the books, hush-hush: to bankroll a squad of covert operatives to assassinate the Palestinians believed to be behind the killings.

It's hard to imagine a better motive for vengeance than the killing of national heroes (and civilians) on a world stage. And, like any good thriller, the first part of Munich catches you up in the Mission: Impossible, nuts-and-bolts, "procedural" aspect of bringing the bad guys down: surveillance followed by shootings and colossal bomb blasts. Take that, terrorist vermin! Afterward, the team celebrates with buoyant back-patting over brewskis; you can almost hear them say, "And now, it's Miller time."

Even in the midst of the assassins' exultation, there are dissonances ..... The coldness of this universe is reinforced by Spielberg's uninflected storytelling. His tone is flat and his visual texture rough; the film is full of unobtrusive hand-held camerawork and quick zooms. The exceptions are the flashbacks to the Munich murders, the events revealed gradually, in fragments, through Avner's daydreams and nightmares. Those flashbacks accelerate—hurtling toward the actual Munich bloodbath—as ambivalence and then revulsion seep into the present action. The men Avner kills don't seem like monsters. They're presented as cranky poets and loving fathers and fierce idealists, and they regard their cause as righteous. (It is a powerful irony that the Palestinian who is said to be the Munich mastermind, who looks and acts like your garden-variety terrorist scumbag, is forever evading assassination.)

Is Munich an apology for Palestinian terrorists—for men and women who barbarously murder civilians? I don't consider a movie that assigns motives more complicated than pure evil to constitute an apology. The Israeli government and many conservative and pro-Israeli commentators have lambasted the film for naiveté, for implying that governments should never retaliate. But an expression of uncertainty and disgust is not the same as one of outright denunciation. What Munich does say—and what I find irrefutable—is that this shortsighted tit-for-tat can produce a kind of insanity, both individual and collective. As members of Avner's own team (played by a blond Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Hanns Zischler) are picked off in chilling ways, his escalating paranoia—and his hunger for absolutes, for a "world of our fathers" that is long gone—transcends his time and place.

There are sequences in Munich that make you sick with fear, that are impossible to shake off—among them one in which a Palestinian professor's little daughter is on the verge of answering a booby-trapped telephone. Most horrible of all is the movie's one pure vengeance killing, which is among the most appalling things I've ever seen. We want that revenge—we want it fiercely. But it's staged with such ugliness—as a sexual violation—that we choke on it.

Munich reinforces the idea that—great Miltonian allegories notwithstanding—the notion of evil has become profoundly maladaptive. Today, saying our enemy is "evil" is like saying a preventable tragedy is "God's will": It's a way of letting ourselves off the hook for crimes committed in our name. Not incidentally, it's also a way for our enemies to let themselves off the hook.

Munich has been regarded in some quarters as an affront: How does Spielberg have the audacity to make a commercial thriller that questions the very concept of retaliation? And while we're on the subject, how does he have the audacity to make a sci-fi picture like War of the Worlds, which uses a Martian invasion to evoke the trauma of 9/11?

Well, it's too bad we don't have more mainstream narrative filmmakers with that kind of audacity. Munich is the most potent, the most vital, the best movie of the year.



Blogger Denny said...

I cannot believe that this excellent review got no other comments. I'm sure that in whichever venue you noticed this review, there were many others who found it to be very thought-provoking.

MUNICH was an excellent film. It brought forth all those emotions, and more. I loved it because it portrayed the give-and-takes of our international hatreds as the evil that they are. THAT is the genius of the film. It shows a cause that SHOULD be righteous (in the eyes of so many) to be an ultimately bankrupt and corrupt effort.

Thanks for posting it.

11:48 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Denny. I found the review at Slate magazine. Roger Ebert had a good one too - gave it four stars.

12:59 AM  

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