Munich (15)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by George Jonas (book), Tony Kushner and Eric Roth (screenplay)
On general release from 27th January 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Hollywood has become a lot more serious over the last year. Films such as Munich, Brokeback Mountain and Crash have resurrected the lost art of using cinema to examine controversial social issues, and have been rewarded with Oscar nominations galore. Political opinions that find no resonance within the Republican and Democrat elites have instead been given financial backing by the LA aristocracy. Though this is a massive improvement on the blandness that was produced in the wake of 9/11, there will always be certain things that Hollywood cannot say. One of those things is that the state of Israel was founded on - and continues to be based on - the genocide of the Palestinian people. For all its plus points, Steven Spielberg's Munich is therefore a $75,000,000 propaganda piece promoting Israel's supposed right to exist.

At the 1972 Munich Olympics, eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage and eventually killed by Palestinian terrorists. In response, the Israeli government set-up a team of agents to assassinate the people they suspected of masterminding the plot. In this film, that team is led by expecting father Avner (Eric Bana) - a former bodyguard of Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) - and includes a bloody-minded thug (Daniel Craig), an anxious bombmaker (Mathieu Kassovitz), an expert forger (Hanns Zischler) and a self-described 'worrier' in charge of cleaning-up afterwards (Ciarán Hinds). The gang works their way through their list, encountering rival gangs, guilt and paranoia along the way.

Bana's character is at the centre of almost all that is praiseworthy about this film. Though his accent wanders more than a little, he brings understated humanity to his role, providing the emotional focus for many a lump in the throat moment. All of the agents are believable, while Geoffrey Rush is gripping and malevolent as the secret service boss. And cinematographer Janusz Kaminski gives each of the fallen the memorial they deserve, by refusing to pull punches in portraying their brutal demise.

Sadly, all this good work is undone by the film's central flaw. Most of its 164 minute duration is taken-up by preaching a wishy-washy pacifism that would be better expressed by saying 'it would be nice if people didn't kill each other'. Spielberg seems to suggest that the violence between the Israeli secret services and Palestinian terrorist groups is largely tit-for-tat and therefore roughly equivalent. But by its very nature, the state of Israel can only maintain its existence by denying basic rights to millions of Palestinians. It is regrettable but also inevitable that a small number of Palestinians will try to get their own back. In a situation like this, you either support the oppressors or the oppressed. Because Spielberg wants to be all things to all people, he is actually nothing more than a slightly critical friend of the oppressors.

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