Next in line of Oscar-nominees: Steven Spielberg's Munich, playing at the Metro, Columbia City, and the Meridian 16. So far, this is the one that has us most baffled, Best Picture-wise. It's good, even brilliant in parts, just like most of Spielberg's work, but it's problematic, and not just in the political sense.
Munich imagines what happened after the 1972 Olympics, when all of the Israeli athletes were rounded up by Palestinian terrorists and killed. Israel decides it needed to exact revenge and have all of the perpetrators killed in turn, so several government spooks, under orders of Prime Minister Golda Meir, put together a super-secret group of assassins. They recruit the Prime Minister's former bodyguard Avner (a yummy Eric Bana) to lead the team, which also includes bomb "expert" Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), forger Hans (Hanns Zischler) tough guy Steve (Daniel Craig), and Carl the Cleaner (Ciaran Hinds). The film is based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas, with a script by Eric Roth and Tony Kushner.
All of the in-between scenes are terrific. All the scenes where they're getting to know one another, or gathering intelligence, or walking the streets of whatever European or Middle Eastern City they're working. Spielberg did a jaw-droppingly awesome job making sure everything exudes early 70s. He must have had a blast getting all of the extras, all of the street signs, all of storefronts looking just exactly the way they must've looked in 1973 or whatever (except, since it's Spielberg, just a little bit cleaner). You can argue that the reason the background is always in focus is to note how everyone is affected by everything these guys are up to, but we have to think some of it was just an excuse to do the 70s up right again.
And he does an admirable job trying to take on a very, very difficult subject. Just perhaps not admirable enough. Did you cringe when we called the Palestinians terrorists up there? So does Munich, sort of. It tries, it really tries, to show that there's more to it than that, but deep down we're not sure it succeeds. Spielberg takes enormous care to show the Palestinian's motivations and to make the assassination targets uncomfortably human, since they're seldom spared. It's often impossible to root for the protagonists, exactly. But in the end, the movie, like the Israelis, seems to ask, "well, if not this, then what?" It'd be too much to ask for the movie to avoid taking sides--in fact, it'd be grotesque--but is it too much to ask that it at least propose an alternative? It's got an "I hope the Russians love their children too" feel. You mean Palestinians have feelings too? Get out! But what should Zionists--and the movie assumes we're all rooting for Israel here--do with that information? Feel more guilty about Doing What Needs to Be Done? In the end, Spielberg seems to be saying "yeah, sucks, doesn't it."
But ok, so partial credit for raising the issues at all. Then there's the filmmaking part. We can forgive Spielberg for quoting himself so much, though this really, truly, has got to be the last time he uses a red jacket to suggest jeopardy and loss, and he should very seriously consider never ever filming anything in a closet with slatted doors again. It's really hard to imagine that when Avner huddles on the floor of his closet because he's afraid his bed might be a bomb that Spielberg meant to invoke E.T., so just, you know, pick a different set next time. And we can forgive that the pacing is sort of... odd. But some stuff just shouldn't make the cut in a Best Picture nominee, no matter how cynical you are about Best Picture nominees. Top of the list is Spielberg's now apparently chronic case of terribleendingitis. It's like Schindler's List ruined his ability to end films gracefully. How can a movie that ends suggesting a link between the Munich assassinations and 9/11 be said to end too happily? Spielberg finds a way. And it's all the more striking because its denouement contains possibly the weirdest and most uncomfortable sex scene ever to grace a mainstream film. We really felt bad for Eric Bana (call us!). So Best Picture, no. But it has no chance anyway, so it's ok.Posted by Deborah in Movies