"Munich is serious, adult film-making at its most nugatory, and America will never produce political movies of any depth if we reward work of this calibre." - Alan Dale
"Munich" begins on a strong note, Spielberg's documentary camera capturing Black September gunmen as they break into the Olympic dorms and mercilessly gun down a group of Israeli athletes. Like "Schindler's List" and the best bits of "Saving Private Ryan", Spielberg's camera dispassionately and objectively records what it sees. There's no forced storytelling or clunky moralising.
Unfortunately it's all downhill from here, as Spielberg turns what would could have been a riveting docudrama into a simplistic morality tale. Everything about Munich reeks of bad art. Its dialogue is didactic, its pacing is awkward, its flashbacks are jarring, its politics are sanitized, its music is hokey, its characters are cardboard, its plot is completely ahistorical and its "family metaphors" are tedious. Throw in Avner's (the film's lead assassin) forced "moral tragedy", the obligatorily "child in peril sequence", comedic sex and countless needlessly long scenes, and you have Spielberg's most annoying "serious project" since "AI".
When promoting the film, Spielberg said: "The thing I'm very proud of is that Tony Kushner and I did not demonize anyone in the film. They're individuals. They have families."
Yes, there's no evil in Spielberg's world. There's no complex motivation, judgement, ambivalence or scepticism. No understanding of how the world really works. Spielberg doesn't deal with irrational motivation, passionate beliefs, unforgiving rage- all facts of life commonly found in the Middle East. Instead it's all "lets just get along". As a result, there's no real understanding of why the athletes were kidnapped, no talk of Palestinian oppression, or how ideologies are bred and mismanaged.
Not once did I believe that this was how real assassins act, look, talk or behave. The real Avner faced no moral dilemma nor did he question whether or not killing 11 Palestinians was the same as killing 11 Israelis. George Jonas, the guy who wrote Vengeance, even disliked the film. His book was written to justify counter terrorism by showing the evil of, not the Palestinians, but the elite who used patriotism and islamofascism to breed hate among their own people. "Munich" washes it's hands of all that. It's simply content to regurgitate the same clunky message preached in Adam Sandler's "You Don't Mess With The Zohan". IE-"violence breeds violence" and "everyone has a family, so lets chill out baby, because deep down we're all the same!"
But of course if everyone were equal, there would be no conflict. It is precisely inequality and injustice that is the problem. But no, Spielberg romanticises everyone. Far from being an oppressed minority, the Palestinians are portrayed as educated intellectuals and sexy hit women. Similarly, the Israeli's go to great lengths to prevent collateral damage. When they do accidentally kill innocents it's only because the French (those pesky French!) intentionally gave them the wrong explosives. And of course Spielberg's Israeli's aren't stone cold killers and trained professionals. No, they're toy makers and accountants with silly moral dilemmas.
It's all well and good to paint everyone in a falsely positive light, but if you're not going to examine the roots of anything, at least show the evil on both sides. Show some sort of truth. Spielberg says that counter terrorism is just as bad as terrorism, but you can morally justify between counter terrorism and terrorism, the same way you distinguish between war and war crimes. It is possible to say that the Palestinian cause is as honourable as the Israeli cause, but it's not possible to say that terror is as honourable as resisting terror unless the initial terror is portrayed as being rational resistance.
And so the film pretends to be critical of Israel, but in actuality it dare not show the true horrors of Israeli violence. We can see the brutal horrors of the Munich massacre, but we are denied the Israeli violence that instigated it. The end result is that Spielberg turns Avner into yet another Jewish victim, an object of sympathy in a situation in which he is precisely not the victim. In contrast, the Palestinian Other is denied a voice, denied any context, history or motive. The symbolic necessity, as Sartre argued, of targeting the Olympic Games, is thus completely ignored.
The reason Spielberg takes his silly "we're all the same" stance is because he can't bare to paint either side in even the faintest of bad lights. He thinks he's chosen the moral high road, when in fact, by ignoring all truth he's chosen no road at all. The high road is cold objective truth, but Spielberg has always been more interested in sanitizing history by avoiding painful traumas.
But ignoring the philosophy of the film, "Munich" still fails as basic entertainment. It becomes tiresome and repetitive, utilizing an obvious and predictable narrative progression which attempts to show that Avner's growing doubt is proportional to each assassination. Too slow to work as a thriller, the film also fails as a personal tragedy, Avner's inner turmoil never convincingly explained. Thin Spielberg characters are usually not this bothersome, but here their sign posted, theatrical moral monologues come across as obvious and lowbrow.
There are other problems too. Why would a hit-man be so traumatised? Why would he "recollect" events he didn't witness? Of course, by showing the massacre in flashbacks, Spielberg hopes to build to a horrific death/sex crescendo. But it all feels silly. Spielberg's handling of sex and adult relationships has never been good.
4/10- A superficial, safe and self-important fantasy movie, churned out without much intelligent thought. "Paradise Now", "Z" and "The Battle of Algiers" tackle similar material in a much better way. Similarly, see "Day of the Jackal" or "Black Sunday" (anything by mid-period Frankenheimer and Costa Gavras) for Spielberg's "70's thriller" aesthetic done right.
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