Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Lonsdale
I am not going to dance around the issue. “Munich” is by far, the best movie Spielberg has ever done. Although it might not be hailed as an instant classic by most, (and will probably be overlooked in the inevitable rumpus caused by the aneurism inducing CGI jizz-fest of “King Kong”), it stands as his most restrained and objective work to date. The usual preachiness characterizing his most Billion Dollar tax-write-off sap-fests, is supplanted by a viewpoint which, instead of pandering to the common denominator, resorts to detached and wry observations; eventually confronting us with the futility of retribution, and the agony begotten, by the persuasion thereof.
Let’s cover some ground, for those living under a rock in Scandinavia. On September 5, 1972, 4:00 AM, a Palestinian fedayeen group, calling themselves “Black September”, broke into an apartment in Munich’s Olympic Village, and took eleven Israeli athletes hostage. Weightlifter Yossef Romano, attacked and wounded one of the terrorists, before succumbing to a hail of automatic gunfire. Coach Tuvia Sokolovsky and race-walker Dr. Shaul Ladany escaped, amidst the confusion, along with another four athletes. “Black September” was demanding the release, and safe passage to Egypt, of some 200 Palestinians and Arabs jailed in Israel. German authorities summarily rejected Israel’s offer to send a Special Forces unit, to deal with the situation; while the German Police itself, was hopelessly ill-trained in counter-terrorism ops. The stand-off ultimately ended in tragedy at the Fürstenfeldbruck airbase, when a botched rescue attempt resulted in the fedayeen, blowing up the remaining hostages amidst ensuing chaos.
Israel, was understandably pissed. Justice in Germany was not forthcoming, so Golda Meir, and the Israeli defense committee secretly authorized Mossad, to track down, and assassinate those directly responsible for the Munich Massacre. The mission was known as Operation Wrath of God or Mitzvah Elohim.
“Munich”, in parts, plays like a standard espionage thriller, but never at any point, does it resort to shameless hokum, or over-simplistic justifications for the remorseless carnage. Avner (Eric Bana), is by no means a Beretta brandishing, Martini swilling product of a pussy whipped mind, like Ian Fleming. He chooses to lead the mission, initially with a sense of pride and righteousness, because according to him, Israel deserves to draw blood for every wrongdoing unleashed upon it. The morality of the issue could academically be debated, well into the 30th century, but cardinal justification seems to be that it was politically imperative to retaliate. Avner’s binding of any ethical value towards pursuing this goal, is nothing more than the trappings of a Boy Scout.
The first successful assassination metes out a sense of jubilation, and self-congratulatory cheer. The realization of the hopelessness of the policy of requital has not quite sunk in. Humanity operates on an “Eye for an Eye” theology, and there is an infantile hope, that balance is somehow being restored to an unjust world. That is—until the skeletons start tumbling out of the closet. Revenge, when advocated as a knee-jerk reaction, from the insularity of a meeting room, is in absolute contrast to what actually transpires once wanton bloodshed ensues. It’s an insatiable monster; self-destructive and vile. Coming to terms with it, forces you to acknowledge the stark, raving reality of undermining a human life. You need to smell the charred flesh. Witness without compassion, the blood, bile and gore, in the name of your cause, however wrongheaded and steeped in madness. Where do you draw the line, before you become those, against whom you have launched your crusade?
As the already perfidious mire, becomes more and more treacherous, plumes of paranoia and international intrigue emerge as acrid wisps of smoke; smothering, and clouding issues even further. After all, Palestine could hardly be expected to stand, and take the comeuppances without a twitch or tremor. And who else is involved? The CIA? The RAF? The possibilities, when contemplated, suggest that Avner and everyone else with him, might be mere patsies in an irredeemably entangled web of high-stakes political stand-offs.
The pace is swift, the narration crisp, and the material handled with a deft poise by a storyteller, whom I personally had left for the dead (especially after the rationality defying improbabilities of “War of the Worlds”). Of course the “wife and kids back home” staple is thrown at us, but it never impedes the cause of an otherwise flawless movie. Spielberg never attempts to deify Israel, or demonize Palestine. Just a restrained documentation of cause and effect vignettes. The real world begets no superheroes or villains. Humanity is always poised on a precipice of self-destruction, to validate its stand. That’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will always be. Mazel Tov.
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