Spielberg's 'Munich' fails to address the reality of revenge

Publié le par David CASTEL

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01/27/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom

Mathieu Kassovitz, left, and Eric Bana appear in 'Munich.'


"Munich" is a tense, part psychological, part action thriller that dramatizes the painful aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September.

This is not to say, however, that the film is very good.

The film follows Avner Kauffman, played intensely by Eric Bana, who is assigned by the Israeli government to lead a group of Israeli men and assassinate various Palestinian targets responsible for the Munich attack. It is a story of revenge.

However, director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner avert this reality, failing to address the film's theme of revenge. Instead, they create a character acting solely out of national interest, emotionally drained from the distance of his wife and newborn daughter, rather than the moral conflict from within.

Rarely does the perspective shine away from that of Kauffman and his primary occupation of assassinating targets.

In one fictionalized scene, not included in George Jonas'book "Vengeance," upon which the film is based, the Israeli group coincidentally spends a night with an identical Palestinian group. After gun waving and intense scolds, the men settle down to rest. Kauffman intellectualizes with his "other," the leader of the Palestinian group. For the first and only time in "Munich's" 164 minutes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is addressed head-on --but with an expected irreverence and dissolution.

Aside from the failed unbiased approach on Spielberg's behalf, and the lack of sympathetic characterization employed throughout the script, the film's fate became reliant upon Kauffman's internal conflict -- but this never rises to the surface.

Where Spielberg fails as a filmmaker is not his lack of character development or his overzealous approach to action sequences, but his total disregard of the cinematic and literary concept of revenge or vengeance -- and the dissolving realization of right and wrong in such an undertaking. Opinions aside, the actions of the Israelis after the 1972 Olympics were out of revenge. The film's fault, however, is its inability to communicate this idea of revenge. At no point does the film address this concern.

By failing to address the morality of revenge, Spielberg consequentially omits the obvious and necessary existence of internal conflict within Kauffman (or any other character, for that matter). Though Spielberg never conveys an abundance of introspection among his characters, his inability in "Munich" is overly evident, creating a cinematic experience that is harrowing and discomforting.

Unlike "The Battle of Algiers" (1965) or 2005's "Paradise Now," where the audience is challenged into understanding a character's pensiveness, "Munich" contains a thesis that remains close-minded. "Paradise Now," directed by Hany Abu Assas, is the newest masterpiece to come out of the Middle East. Its Palestinian director chronicles the conflict between two Palestinian suicide bombers.

"Paradise Now," which won a Golden Globe award this month for best foreign film, effectively picks up the aesthetic where "Munich" leaves off.

To counter this cinematic flaw, Spielberg tries to replace his bias with Kauffman's moral conflict of loyalty -- to his family or his country. However, in the end, Kauffman ends up emotionless, unable to communicate with other individuals, immersed in a pool of suspicion and distrust that will plague him the rest of his life.

After choosing his country over his family at first, Kuaffman and his men begin their assassinations. Upon establishing a contact in Paris, their Israeli case-officer Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) meets with the men, demanding to know the identity of their contact. After much reluctance, Kauffman proclaims, "We found them (targets), they're ours."

Ephraim wryly responds, 'That's touching, in a juvenile sort of way."

And in the end, this is essentially what "Munich" is.

Publié dans Critiques USA

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