Dir: Him (Schindler's List; Jurassic Park; The Color Purple; War of the Worlds)
Let me give my own thoughts on the film, and then address the debate that occured here on I Just Saw.
I found the movie difficult to form a judgment on. Some parts I found very compelling, and others left me flat. It is by no stretch a bad film, but I do think the good parts workmanlike. On first reflection, this is a capable and entertaining film, but not much more.
The excellent parts are the actual cloak-and-dagger assasinations and plotting. As a spy/secret agent film, Munich delivers a sense of realism and successfully conveys the politics of field work, not just the actual killing itself. Many times it reminded me of a mob movie, with various hits going on and different alliances with different families, everyone recognizing the futility and the inevitabiliy of it all. I rather liked the relationship between Avner and his informer Louis, a complicated one that grows over time. The problems on contacts, pesky governments counting receipts, the unpredictability of explosives, the jitters of new operatives, are all welcome remedies from the polished perfection of a James Bond.
Some directorial bits were also rewarding. I was rather impressed with the opening montage about the hostage crisis at the Olympics, and the shifting back and forth between the two sides. Would that the rest of the film had that sort of depth and complexity in its exploration of this issue! More on that below.
But what falls flat in the film are the familial elements that are supposed to create Avner's tension about his job. Am I right, or was the entire development of the love for his family that is supposed to dominate his entire worldview the fact that he had sex with his pregnant wife? One scene, and then its "I can't live without you." Half way through the movie, Avner cries when his toddler says "Dada." Everything else is just inferred. But I expect some reason to be invested in his relationship myself if I am going to care about its disposition. The movie is far more concerned with justice, not with family. I found that whole thread tacked on, unconvincing, and distracting.
What is left is some things that blow up good, an interesting spy film that chooses a different conflict than most others, and not much else. Just like a Bond film, I think the little dart guns are cool, watch in the bushes with our hero until the guards have a cigarette break, and wait for the next action scene.
The debate between Ron and Omri linked above addresses an entriely other level to the film, its overt and ambiguous politics. You should read it before moving on to my reactions below.
While Omri's post is well thought out and makes sense from a certain perspective, its is not applicable to this film. Omri starts with a contradiction in the first two sentences, one that cuts to the heart of his critique. He says that a movie claiming to represent the facts that then gets those facts wrong is propanganda. He then says that Speilberg wanted to (1) spark discussion about violence and (2) contribute to peace with Munich. Where is the fidelity in truth in those two goals?
Omri's post goes on to simultaneously make two arguments. One, that Munich is inaccurate (his first claim above). Two, that Munich equivocates between Israeli and PLO violence. All of the stuff relating to one goes out the window once we recognize this is a narrative and does not claim to accuratley represent the events of the Munich and its aftermath. You can make that charge against Michael Moore (or even Mel Gibson, who was more interested in the facts of the matter than many film makers), but not Speilberg. This is polemic, not documentary.
So we have equivalence. Ron says that Speilberg is deft there, humanizing both sides while resisting the assignation of blame, expect to "the media and, to a lesser degree, American aparthy." Speilberg is ambivalent to violence, recognizing the motives but bemoaning its lack of solvency. I agree; too many scenes feature characters proclaiming that Israel has no other response to terrorism, that anyone would do the same thing in their shoes. No characters question counter terrorism itself, but only pragmatically; it doesn't work, leaders emerge and they have revenge on their minds, but you still have to do it.
Omri thinks this move equivocates. But it is also undeniable. Any neutral observer would have to recognize the escalating revenge factor over time, and the tragic human toll in repsonding through strength on both sides. The dead care not about equivocation; everyone dies the same.
The flaw with Munich's politics is not that it sees both sides the same, but that is has not the will to really tell the Palestinian side. Only in one scene do we get their take, and it is the most superficial one possible. "Everyone wants a home." Even the most casual oberver of the conflict already knows that. Speilberg tells the story from one side, and in so doing provides a warrant for one kind of violence and only implying one for the other. Omri is wrong; this film is pro-Israel, not just neutral. By only humanizing one side, there is no equivocation here, but advocacy.
Now, I don't have a problem with advocacy. I want films on both sides; it is through these stories that we empathize with the parties in the conflict (Paradise Now is very high in my Netflix queue). Of course, I had my problems with how that humanization went down here, but that is a different issue. I am all for a pro-Israel film. But saying that this pro-Israel film is not pro-Israel enough lacks self reflexivity. And I think Ron turns a blind eye to the advocacy here, that he wants Speilberg to have been fair, or found blame in parties outside the two primary antagonists.
The film is pro-Israel. Complicating counter terrorism is not equivocating between it and terrorism.
And it is still only a fair film.