Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Film Decade List #8: Munich

Munich (Steven Spielberg, USA, 2005)

Munich succeeds because of its ambiguities. It is neither a pro-Israel revenge movie, as its source material reads as, nor is it a polemic screed against either. Instead, Spielberg uses the events of the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis and in its aftermath, a clandestine Israeli mission targeting those responsible, as an interpretation of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a conflict with no real good or bad guys with no real end in sight. Eric Bana plays a Mossad agent responsible for organizing a team that will carry out retribution against those involved, directly or indirectly, with Munich. The group initially carry out their mission dutifully, but as causalities mount and targets become less and less directly involved, the film dives into its moral quandaries. The Bana character and the film itself realize that violence only spurs more violence and that by the end of the film, nothing has changed. The Israelis are still fighting terrorism and the Palestinians are still fighting for a home. Some may charge that Spielberg never taking sides is a cop out but the film works because it shows each side using pretty much the same tactics and getting nowhere. The film's main message is that the damage inflicted in human lives is not worth what the end goals may be. Spielberg ends up crafting out of all of this an expertly made thriller. There are certain scenes, such as when the group is attempting to defuse a bomb before an innocent girl is killed, that is Hitchcokian in its hair-raising iciness. That the film catches the causalities with such an unflinching eye makes it even more potent. It never cops out to any one side and it isn't mindless action either. Spielberg is one of the few directors that could successfully juggle this excess of action and still have a message out of it.

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