Monday, January 23, 2006

Munich- A fine but biased movie

Since George's review on Steven Spielberg's latest offering is going to take a while, I thought I may jot down some of my 2 pence thoughts on Munich. Spielberg does have a knack of overdoing things , his previous oscar winning efforts Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List are cases in point, where the scenes of grotesque violence were unbearably long. Thankfully, in this movie he does not harp on the atrocities as much but rather concentrates more on the characters and drama, which is quite intriguing. The backdrop of all that subsequently unfolds in the movie is the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre in which 11 Israeli atheletes were taken hostage and then gunned down by Palestinian revolutionaries. This action played out in all its horror on TV the world over galvanised the Israeli establishment into taking matters in their own hands. Mossad, the Israeli equivalent of CIA, formed hit squads to assassinate all those who were behind the events at Munich. One such hit-squad has Avner (Eric Bana), the story's main protagonist. Rest of the movie is about how Avner and his fellow Mossad agents go about their mission.

A high point of the movie is its realistic portrayal of the events under study. The story has all the elements of a highly charged spy thriller and there are some moments of pure adrenaline rush, but for the most part the movie underplays those sequences and concentrates more on the fate of protagonists. The story is told from the point of view of Avner, who develops a crisis of conscience while carrying out his hatchet job and according to the movie with good reasons. No matter how one interprets the events unfolding on screen, Israel and Mossad come out as villains. For example, most of the palestinian "terrorists" depicted in the movie come across as affable, academic, family men whose only crime seems to be that they are voicing the palestinian cause. They are never shown or even hinted at causing voilent terrorist activities. It is never clear whether those people were actually involved in the terrorist acts or were they merely part of the political arm of Palestinian organizations. The movie does more than hint that Mossad is using Avner and his group as mere pawns to eliminate everybody they perceive as threats- past or future. Towards the end Avner gets disillusioned with Mosaad as well as Israel and refuses to go back to Israel inspite of pleas from his Mossad boss. Unlike the audience, he is convinced that Israel is evil. No wonder pro-Israel groups are up in arms against this film, a fact which no doubt is going to hamper its prospects in the awards season inspite of movie's technical merits.

Its anti-Israel bias not withstanding, Munich is still a finely crafted piece of work which deserves a viewing. The work is largely based on a book, so any biases are probably inherited from there. To this day, Israel has not accepted existence of any assassination squads, a denial which is hard to reconcile with the sudden emergence of body bags containing Palestinian leaders in the aftermath of Munich. Spielberg enhances his reputation as a master story teller. His Munich is a fine effort in bringing one of the most long standing disputes in contemporary politics into mainstream Hollywood's focus.


Ashutosh said...

Thanks for the review! While I agree that some scenes of violence in Saving... and Schilndler's list were long, I also think they were not gratuitous. For example, the first 10 mins of Saving... portray a lot of violence, but I think it's extremely realistic and necessary to understand what Normandy was. I think that's the beauty of Spielberg; whatever he portrays is also slotted to be essential for the effect of the movie.

About the Israelis, I think their wound is still festering, and I don't when it will be healed, because of the sheer volume of injustice and atrocities that they have faced over the last thousand years. At the same time, they are not playing it fair, trying to bring about massive retaliation and destruction where it's not necessary. Just like the US, they don't balk in taking preemptive action without international consent or dialogue. For example, I don't doubt that the greatest nuclear destabilizing influence in the middle east is not Iran or Iraq, but Israel, with their great silos of nuclear weapons...

Vivek Gupta said...

I think when a country is in a situation like Israel is, they have hardly any choice other than to be proactive. As recent events clearly show, they are surrounded by extremely volatile fundamentalist nations who will avail of the first feasible opportunity to erase Israel from world-map. Unlike the case of US, not taking premptive action jeopardizes the very existence of the state of Israel.