January 21, 2006

Bloggers view "Munich"

Last evening, Dana of Delaware Watch, Mike of Down With Absolutes! and Paul Smith Jr. of ... Paul Smith Jr. (makes sense, right?) all met for dinner and then headed over to view Steven Spielberg's "Munich." Oh, how dare I forget to mention -- my wife attended as well! ;-) Personally, I'd like to thank Dana for originally coming up with the idea; he's had some terrific ideas lately for getting local bloggers together and discussing local, national and international issues. Kudos!

Back in December, Felix had posted about the initial "controversy" surrounding "Munich;" however, I failed to see much controversial about the movie. As you're probably aware, the film details the events after the 1972 murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich, West Germany Summer Olympics. (As a mere seven year-old lad at the time, I do amazingly recall some of those Olympic games, but not anything about the terrorism. My biggest memory is of my entire family flipping out that Olympic officials gave the Soviet Union basketball team a few extra seconds to defeat the US team!)

Eric Bana (at right in the picture from the movie; he also stars in "The Hulk" and "Blackhawk Down") plays Avner, the leader of the Mossad team that goes after the masterminds of the Olympic massacre. Initially, the team seems to go about their "job" with little ambivalence. However, as the "hits" proceed, the members become less sure of the "rightness" of their actions, and the political intrigue increases exponentially. Avner's information contact ("Louis") and his father ("Papa") provide him with the leads to nail the terrorists, but we're led to believe that Louis and Papa actually only end up being non-political information merchants -- as several (unsuccessful) attempts on Avner's life and assassinations of a couple of Avner's team demonstrate. But it remains a question. Papa (played by Michael Lonsdale, whom I recognized immediately as one of my favorite James Bond villains -- "Drax" from "Moonraker") holds a nebulous philosophical conversation with Avner during a lunch at the former's mansion, and reinforces the point that he (and son Louis) "do not deal with governments;" however, Papa also implies then that he fully understands Avner's motivations and desires.

Avner appears to be in the middle when it comes to querying the rightness of the team's mission. One member is vehemently in favor of tracking down each and any person associated with Munich; one appears quite the opposite. The team's explosives expert seems more on the "con" side, once pleading with Avner in an airport that Jews believe in "righteousness," that for 3000 years they hadn't succumbed to the same desires that have led to their constant persecution, and that they shouldn't begin now.

Dana indicated that there was one instance in the movie that was confusing: in Athens, Avner and his team are sleeping in a "safe house," when suddenly an Arab hit team shows up to occupy the same house! No -- not to kill Avner's team, but to utilize the same building from which to launch their own strikes. I agreed with Dana, and offered that, to me, it just showed how we're led to believe that Louis and Papa ultimately didn't care about to whom they sold information. That, and maybe they secretly hoped that the two teams would eliminate each other in the ensuing confusion. They did not, however, as Avner and co. -- as both teams all have guns pointed at one another -- convince the Arab team that they're a radical European hit squad, more or less aligned with the Palestinian cause. It is here, perhaps, that we witness the greatest amount of political debate, as Avner and the leader of the Arab team argue about the rightness/wrongness/origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab team leader sermonizes about the "need for a home," and that "no matter how long it takes," the Palestinians will have one, offering up other terrorist struggles as an example (like the IRA) and even those of countries that have long existed (he offers Germany), but whose formulation took decades, even hundreds of years. Dana remarked here that "He has a point," and I agreed. It's hard to argue against a nation's desire for a home. My only problem is, of course, how the Palestinians have gone about it, especially considering the origins of Israel and the United Nations Partition Plan of the late 1940s.

One scene that was almost exactly the same as the HBO movie "Sword of Gideon" (which Felix mentions in his December post, as well) was when Avner is at a hotel bar and is swooned by a most attractive woman. He resists temptation, but another member of his team does not (later on). Avner discovers his friend's body -- he has been shot in the head by the woman. As a result, Avner goes back to Louis and Papa for the ID and location of the woman assassin, gets them, and then proceeds to kill her.

Avner's boss, Ephraim (played by Geoffrey Rush), is insistent throughout most the film on getting the ID of Avner's information contact (Louis and Papa). For some reason unknown to me and the other bloggers, Avner kept refusing to relinquish this info, especially when it seemed as if Louis and Papa were playing Avner and his team against ... those who wanted them killed. Perhaps it was Avner's remembering of how fond Papa was of him, and how Papa promised that he would not tell anyone Avner's whereabouts when Avner's hit mission was over.

Avner and Ephraim debate the mission at film's end (in New York City, by the way), where Avner asks "what exactly did we accomplish"? After all, he notes, all those bumped off by Avner's team were replaced by personnel even more radical than their predecessors, terrorism against Israeli interests increased worldwide, that Israel didn't even have the death penalty, and perhaps most strikingly, how Israel had "bothered" to capture people like Nazi Adolph Eichmann and put them on trial. In my view, Spielberg ended this movie quite perfectly as these questions continue to this very day (we see Avner and Ephraim going their separate ways, and in the background is the skyline of NYC -- complete with a computer-generated image of the World Trade Center towers):

Do we -- as a civilized nation of laws -- "stoop" to the level of the terrorists, or do we utilize [at least some] of their own tactics? Do we afford those who would destroy our laws and freedom ... the very things they'd annihilate?

They're excellent questions.

Posted by Hube at January 21, 2006 03:15 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

May I present an alternative view of Munich? (No I haven't seen it. Nor do I have much desire to see it.)

Posted by: David Gerstman at January 22, 2006 10:44 AM

You noticed Michael Lonsdale, too? I recognized him immediately! Too cool.

My review will be up shortly.

Posted by: Mike M. at January 22, 2006 05:20 PM

There has been a rightwing attack mode (from pro-Israeli camps) on this movie.
They see it as apologist at best and as overly sympathetic to and even an endorsement of the Palestinian cause.

Posted by: Nancy Willing at January 22, 2006 07:22 PM

There was an interesting article in last week's WSJ about Munich, which maintained that the film's screenwriter has publicly declared that the existence of Israel is the worst thing to happen to Jews since the Holocaust, because Israelis are forced into immoral acts and policies to ensure their survival. Oh, and that the original source for the story was never a Mossad agent, only a wanna-be.

Posted by: G Rex at January 23, 2006 10:58 AM

Great review, Hube.

"one of my favorite James Bond villains -- "Drax" from "Moonraker"

Damn, I missed that one. But he did a good job in Munich.

It seems that you, Mike & Paul liked the movie more than I did. I posted my review.

Posted by: Dana garrett at January 25, 2006 03:34 PM