Editor’s note: Peter Lewis has agreed to use whatever it is you call his writing style to provide some measure of analysis to those folks who still go to a theater to see a movie.
review by Peter Lewis
Unless you have been hiding out in a Waziristan cave ere these last few days, it should be safe to assume knowledge of Osama Bin Laden’s death has reached you.
As a way to mark this both saddening and satisfying of occasions, it was thought that a film involving special operation forces might be timely. To that end, we’ll be venturing into the recesses of the neighborhood rental store to examine Steven Spielberg’s divisive film, “Munich.”
This 2005 release examined the aftermath of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in the West German city of Munich. As a mode of retaliation and deterrent, Israel enacted Operation Wrath of God — a special, covert operation that sought to locate and eliminate the terrorists of the Black September group behind the Munich massacre.
As is readily apparent, there are many differences between the events surrounding both Munich and 9/11. Yet, in many ways, the tragic events offer uncanny similarities — not only in the shocking nature of the attacks, but with the resolve in which the bloodshed was met. And further, both events are inherently divisive, as everyone with a pulse possesses, not opinions, but facts about the order of the world.
The crux of Munich isn’t about who was right or wrong, but what becomes of the people enlisted to resolve such difficult situations. In other words, how is death — justified as it may be — accounted for by those that inflict it?
While Spielberg openly admits his apolitical intentions for the film, it has not stopped for a moment the cascade of commentators and critics both hailing and assailing the politicization of his work. This sort of perspective sullies what is undoubtedly a work of great art. Munich offers a clinching tenacity, featuring a wonderfully understated score, nuanced acting and believable urgency. Spielberg utilizes skillful shots of breathtaking magic and scope, not only ratcheting tension, but imbuing viewers with a sort of fearful beauty.
Yet the film is not without its missteps.
Spielberg — despite a quest to portray the guilt and uncertainty of the actors behind Operation Wrath of God — completely ignores the Lillehammer Affair. If anything should offer a tangible and prescient reminder of collateral damage to stoke the flames of moral uncertainty, the mistaken assassination of a Moroccan waiter seems all too perfect.
Furthermore, the brief roles of both Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) and the Mossad accountant offer more in stereotypes than they do in redemptive acting. And for some reason Spielberg chose to interlace scenes of the Munich disaster with that of our protagonist Avner (Eric Bana) making absent-minded love to his wife. Perhaps in some circles this might be construed as a soulful rendering of a tortured soul, but it comes off as nothing more than a weird, sloppy attempt at art-house cinema.
What results is a deeply conflicted film. Like the subject it seeks to dissect, “Munich” is an uneven affair. Yet with all the blemishes, the result is affecting and authoritative cinematic attempt.
And in the wake of events in Abbottabad, it offers an interesting perspective to consider as we reflect in our own successful quest for justice.
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