January 3, 2006

They're All Gone


Though we didn't include it in our top ten from last year, Cinecultist did appreciate Steven Spielberg's newest release, Munich, more than the general consensus (ie. the very unscientific polling of a few movie-ish friends). It's overly long like many of the movies in the theaters right now but the cast is great and its topical commentary makes an interesting bookend to another story about the Middle East, Syriana.

Of course, Munich is also a companion piece to Spielberg's other personal story about Jewish identity, Schindler's List. When that movie came out CC was deeply affected by it, going to see it twice in the theaters and bawling like a baby both times. If Schindler's was, in a round about way, about "why a Jewish state", then Munich is contemplating "Jewish state, 25 or so years later." In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and then killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics. Spielberg's film follows the aftermath of this attack as the former Mossad member, Avram (Eric Bana) and his crack team track down and assasinate a list of PLO operatives in Europe.

The film has a vignette structure as the group discovers the location of each name on their list and then plots how to do them in. However, unlike most caper or thriller movies we seen lately, Avram et al are a bit inept. They're not experts in the art of killing. There's not really the usual voyeuristic pleasure to be derived from watching them execute a precision attack with finesse. Instead, at every turn, we feel their anxiety, guilt and second guessing of their pursuit. Are these really the guys they're looking for? Were they really involved in the Munich attack? And is their extermination really worth the horrible retribution being heaped on the Israelis in response?

Spielberg doesn't shy away from this questioning though his movie remains fiercely loyal to the Israeli cause. Perhaps what we liked best from the movie (beside of course the pleasure of seeing Prime Minister Golda Meir depicted on screen -- you go, Golda!), is how much it insists that there is no easy answer to terrorism. If you strike back against violence and madness, do you get a real result? Doesn't seem that way from the hollow eyes of Eric Bana's character by the end of this picture. Though maybe this complexity and anti-Pollyanna-ness that we're unused to seeing in Spielberg should be attributed to screenwriter, Tony Kushner, a playwrite (Angels in America) familiar with tackling questions without easy answers.

However, we should note that despite the interesting questions raised within this movie, Cinecultist still felt it necessary for our sanity and well being to go right across the street to Urban Outfitters after the movie to try on some frivolous tank tops. Oy. It's hard to be a questioning Jew, isn't it Steven?

Posted by karen at January 3, 2006 9:10 AM