Munich, Steven Spielberg (2005)

Revolting, ridiculous cartoon about Mossad’s assassinations of the Black September Organization members who plotted the Munich Olympics debacle in 1972.

Everything I read about Munich yammered on about how it was all morally conscientious and shit. What that really means is this. First twenty minutes of the movie show us the Munich disaster and the decision by Golda Meir to assassinate the Palestinian planners. The next two hours are totally bankable straight-ahead Mission Impossible-style hunting down and murdering of Palestinians. I guess the morally conscientious part is that the assassins sit around and talk about how bad they feel when they get done killing someone. Eventually, too, they become unhinged by their guilt, but that, for a while at least, just makes them more focused, intense, scary killers.

We’re meant to feel doubly sorry for the Israeli agents: they’re constantly in danger of being killed by the Palestinians, but if they kill the Palestinian guys first, then they have to feel bad about it. Nasty double bind. You can tell when the Mossad guys are having a Moral Moment™ to consider this quandary, because they stare silently into space. Eric Bana’s particularly good at this. Spielberg was a genius to cast him here, since his role is basically identical to the one he played in Hulk: a moody self-hating revengeaholic.

Most revolting of all: we see no—none, zero—Palestinians who have complex inner lives. Jews get to feel conflicted. Arabs are one dimensional killers. I love how Spielberg says in his introduction on the DVD that he really didn’t mean to disparage Israel in any way. Um, yes, I caught that.

Second most revolting of all: guilt-crazed Eric Bana wearing his Hulk face, violently fucking his wife while flashing back to the Munich perpetrators getting their heads blown off. Holy shit—who can watch that? Am I supposed to be feeling sorry for this bizarre monster man? And then his wife looks up and says, “I love you.” Ugh!

Which is a nice segue to my ridiculousness accusation. I am confident that the Mossad agents assigned to these tasks did not sit around at cafés and debate the morality of their mission. I’m further confident that all the hacky devices Spielberg asks us to swallow—last minute escapes, melodramatic flashbacks, stock characters, amazing coincidences, comic relief, formulaic dialog—have absolutely no relationship to reality. I am aware that reality itself can sometimes seem cliché, but no way could it ever be as cliché as this. The characters aren’t people; they’re walking repositories of characteristics. You feel like it would be helpful if they’d all just wear name tags: “Hi, I’m Elderly Inscrutable Dignified French Crime Lord,” “Hi, I’m Comically Worried Portly Greek Innkeeper,” “Hi, I’m Sexy Dutch Assassin,” “Hi, I’m Slightly Incompetent But Ultimately Good-as-Gold Sidekick.”

In short, Munich does for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict what The Color Purple did for race relations in America: it makes of it a sentimentalized cartoon. Everyone loses when complex issues are reduced to mawkish soundbites.

How creepy that Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay for this. I thought he was smart.

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