Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Oscar Race, Part the Third: Explosions and Implosions

Today's installment will focus on Munich. It's short and spoilertastic.

The question on a thousand lips, of course, is whether the film is "pro-Israel." In that the film is a sympathetic portrait of an assassin hired by Israel's GSS to kill Palestinian assassins, somewhat. But a sympathetic portrayal of a character does not make the movie sympathetic to his every move, and on this the film honestly is balanced. Its point, which it makes several more times than necessary, is that violence begets violence; Spielberg, a Jew, has chosen to follow Avner, a Jewish assassin, about whom more written accounts are also available in the United States, but the most moving scenes are those where Avner and his compatriots recognize, and see in graphic detail, the violence they have wrought.

Granted, nobody's made the film about the terrorists at the 1972 Olympics themselves, who doubtless felt their motivating factors were as viable as those of Avner and his companions (who include some bloody amazing actors, like Daniel Craig and Ciaran Hinds. Everybody loves Ciaran Hinds. Seriously. Everyone.) Or if somebody has made that movie, it certainly hasn't reached viewers here. But Paradise Now was made and distributed, it is about suicide bombers, and from what I've been led to understand, nobody would venture to call it pro-suicide-bombing.

Munich is a gory movie, though I recognize that the term "gory" is usually used to describe gratuitous scenes of bloodshed and mutilation. These scenes are not gratuitous; they are, as I said, some of the best-reasoned and most effecting in the film. To make its point--and I say this honestly without rancor or sarcasm--it really did have to show us a bloodied arm caught on the ceiling fan.

Eric Bana is also stunningly wonderful. I had no idea he could do that. He sustains a compelling and fascinating struggle throughout; the character is mercilessly human and mercilessly conflicted, and is truly believable and honest. The film could also stand a great deal of editing throughout, and its last two scenes are almost entirely without merit. There are points at which the scene of the first terrorist attack intercut with Avner having sex with his wife actually work, but really not all that many of them, and the scene in which Avner's Israeli boss, played by Geoffrey Rush, asks him by the Brooklyn waterfront to come back to Israel, with the Twin Towers in the background, is completely useless. I'm fairly sure, though not completely, that the Twin Towers weren't even completed at that point; either way, we really do understand that violence begets violence without having to be told explicitly that buildings fell down.

Munich is the best work I've ever seen Spielberg do. I don't think that's saying much, though I admit I've never seen Schindler's List. And ultimately, I couldn't like it. My sister was a tremendous fan, which is interesting because she never likes anything, but I found in the end it was too long and made its point too many times. In retrospect, however, I'm able to see and write about its merits, more than I thought at the time.

That's all she wrote. I really just needed to get this in before midnight to keep my promise for the month, and didn't feel I had all that much to say about the movie. The next two are coming in the next five days.


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