Friday, December 30, 2005

Review: Speilberg's 'Munich'; Interesting Movie; Shallow Message.

I have received a number of private negative reactions to my original guarded recommendation of 'Munich' from folks that I respect. So I have decided to spend a little more time thinking this issue through. I wrote down a number of my thoughts about the negatives and the positives that I see in this film. I will add thoughts as they come to me. Of course, folks will make up their own minds.

Things that I found problematic in Spielberg’s ‘Munich’:

1) While I find it hard to believe that it would be intentional, in this film Spielberg reinforces the stereotype of Jews as money-obsessed, penny-pinchers: Examples: Receipts are loudly demanded for everything; salaries and bank accounts feature prominently; and constant complaints about the high financial price for each operation…etc.
2) The idea of the Israeli Mossad handlers requiring receipts for everything seems a silly insertion because no intelligence agency worth a dime would ask its own operatives to create a detailed and incriminating paper-trail of all their activities, especially highly covert and sensitive activities. Presumably these issues are handled by memory and trust - of known and highly trained operatives. What then would be the filmmaker’s motive to insert such a scene?
3) The tough blond-haired, blue-eyed (Conveniently a white South African during the era of aparthide) Jewish Mossad team-member was clearly cast to fill a certain stereotype: The Jewish Nazi. At one point he loudly proclaims in true Aryan fashion: “the only blood I care about is Jewish blood.” What would motivate the director to insert that?
4) The argument for Israel seems purposefully weak and based entirely on the Holocaust (oddly, not too dissimilar from the views of the current Iranian President). While ignoring that Zionism was a vibrant movement well before WWII, with a strong set of ideals and arguments for Israel that predate and have nothing to do with the Holocaust. In this film, Israel is all about victomology and the Holocaust. No Holocaust, no Israel.
5) The argument for the Palestinians in this film is forceful and goes un-countered; that their land was stolen from them illegally. Of course Israel was created by a legitimate vote of the United Nations, and Israel was illegally attacked by all surrounding Arab armies on the day of its creation in an Arab bid to destroy the fledgling state in its infancy, but none of that matters in this film apparently.
6) At one point the mother of Avner, the films main character “justifies” Israel’s existence with the following statement: “No one would give it to us so we took it.” Essentially reinforcing the Palestinian argument that their land was stolen. With advocates like that who needs enemies?
7) Prime Minister Golda Meir at one point talked about the need now to be strong and that “peace will have to wait.” This falsely suggests that peace was an option at all for Israel in 1972 and that Israel purposefully set peace aside. Spielberg needs reminding that in 1972 the PLO Charter called publicly and openly for Israel’s complete destruction and not a single Arab country recognized Israel’s right to even exist. Indeed, the following year, Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur war. What Peace exactly was Golda setting aside in the mind of the filmmaker?
8) I will preface the following critique with a disclaimer: I am certainly not a prude and do not have the slightest problem with sex scenes in films. However, Munich is packed with graphic, repeated, and largely unnecessary sexualized-violence which is different and can only be explained as a cheep method of disturbing the audience. It is not the sex that bothers me, it’s the excessive sexualized-violence, examples; An attractive woman slowly goes through death pangs in a lengthy close-up, full frontal nudity with blood squirting out of her neck; a couple is blown out of their bed during sex and walk around in the nude bloodied, dazed and confused. One of the Israeli operatives is shot in the head in bed by an attractive woman he met in a hotel bar, and who’s full-frontal, bloodied nude body is discovered by the lead actor. But most disturbingly; at the end of the film, the lead character engages in dramatic sexual intercourse with his wife as Spielberg alternates back and forth from the sexual pleasure of the characters to the violent murder of the Israeli athletes, with the greatest violence and blood occurring in slow motion as the main character climaxes and the Israeli athletes are murdered simultaneously. Sick? You make the call. But one has to wonder if in fact so much sexual-violence occurred during these operations. If as any normal person might suspect it did not, what could possibly have been the director’s motivation in inserting an overdose of it in the film?
9) The main message is the idea that there is no right or wrong in this conflict and that all of this is the product of an endless “cycle of violence” is constantly reinforced throughout the film. With the most obnoxious moment coming at the end with the twin towers dominating the New York skyline; as if to suggest that all of this Israeli tit-for-tat led to 9/11. I.e., no Israel, no 9-11.
10) Although this is not a direct criticism of the film itself, it does irk me a bit that the co-writer of this film was Tony Kushner who is on record as expressing that the creation of Israel was a historical mistake. It is somewhat surprising that Spielberg would feel comfortable associating himself so closely with this writer on this particular subject matter. It is also discomforting that the primary consultant was Dennis Ross, the great champion of the Oslo accords and the primary promoter in the US of Yasser Arafat as a legitimate “peacemaker.” The involvement of these folks tends to prejudice the film for many folks (not all) in advance, which is unfortunate.

Things that I liked about Spielberg’s ‘Munich’:

1) The Israeli team was largely portrayed sympathetically, as thinking and caring about innocent bystanders and struggling to operate in an ethical manner under the difficult circumstances of their mission. Many times during the film, the team aborted operations because of the possibility of innocent folks getting hurt, including the family members of the terrorists themselves. In my view that, more than anything else clearly and loudly distinguished them from the Palestinians in the film who were time and again seen killing innocent athletes, hijacking planes and sending letter-bombs. Despite the repeated attempts at moral relativism, and unless I’m blind and completely misunderstood what I was watching, there could be little doubt throughout the film that the Israelis were the imperfect good guys.
2) Furthermore, it was the Israeli team, not the Palestinian terrorists who are the main focus of the entire movie. The viewer is drawn in and compelled to sympathize with the main characters who are the Israelis not the Palestinians. The main characters, by enlarge do come across as compelling and sympathetic.
3) Purely from an entertainment point of view, I found the film fast and exciting. Others have complained to me that it is discombobulated, confusing and seems hastily done.