There are some historic events that warrant telling for their significance. But to be made into a successful film, these events need a good story teller.
For the 11 Israelis taken hostage and killed during the 1972 Munich Olympics, Steven Spielberg has become that storyteller.
The director’s latest film, “Munich,” faces the challenges that accompany addressing a complex issue, but Spielberg’s film is successful in depicting the story in an honest and balanced manner. In depicting the events, Spielberg managed to stay close to reality without losing any of the film’s suspense.
Based on the George Jonas book “Vengeance,” “Munich” gives an account of the Israeli counter terrorist team that avenged the deaths of the murdered Olympic athletes.
The movie begins with the massacre of the Israeli athletes in Munich and follows the undertakings of the Israeli team tasked by Prime Minister Golda Meir to find and kill those responsible.
Led by Avner (played by Eric Bana), the team becomes pulled into a world of brutal violence. With each assassination the group accrues, Avner and the others begin to question the morality of their actions.
The movie’s “R” rating was well deserved, as the assassinations and the images of the massacres in the film are gruesome. But despite a plot and much action centered around violence and murders, Spielberg successfully humanizes the Israeli assassination group. He also examines the terrorists’ motives and places no judgment on their cause.
Spielberg’s latest undertaking is a refreshing contrast to many of the films in today’s mainstream media.
It conjures questions and informs the audience of a complex issue without showing a preference toward either the Israelis or the Palestinians. Spielberg told film critic Roger Ebert in a telephone interview that he purposely does not leave the audience with any simple answers to questions about the plagued Middle East.
“It would make people more comfortable if I made a film that said all targeted assassination is bad, or good, but the movie doesn’t take either of those positions,” Spielberg said. “It refuses to.”
While he does not cast judgment on the actions of either side, Spielberg makes the dangers of using violence glaringly apparent. Violence breeds more violence, pushing both the Israelis and the Palestinians into a vicious cycle that makes the prospect of peace even more dismal.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the brutal killings committed by Avner and his team and the equally horrific murders of the Israeli athletes is the knowledge that little was accomplished with all of the violence, and that 33 years later, Israelis and Palestinians have not yet achieved peace. Yet Spielberg found it necessary to tell the story.
“I guess as I grow older,” Spielberg told Ebert, “I just feel more responsibility for telling the stories that have some kind of larger meaning.”
Spielberg can now add “Munich” to his impressive list of thought provoking films, including “The Color Purple” and “Schindler’s List.”
He did justice to the story of the Israeli athletes and assassins and portrayed a controversial topic without slanting the audience to a pro-Israeli or a pro-Palestinian viewpoint.
The film was a bit too lengthy and it dragged during certain parts, but Spielberg’s look into the conflict between Israel and Palestine was well done.
The film’s impact is supplemented by a soundtrack that is appropriately low key, special effects that further the film’s realistic feel, and characters that are believably brutal yet human.
Bana also delivers an impressive performance in depicting the emotional turmoil Avner went through as he questioned the morality of his actions.
Aside from its interesting look into Israeli-Palestinian affairs, one of the film’s greatest strengths is that it leaves it to the audience to determine their feelings about the issue.
It also undoubtedly leaves audiences with a reaction, whether it is one of sadness about the true nature of the movie, one of disgust over the sheer brutality of the violence, or a range of emotions in between.
“If this movie bothers you, frightens you, upsets you, maybe it’s not a good idea to ignore that,” Spielberg told Ebert. “Maybe you need to think about why you’re having that reaction.”
If for nothing else, “Munich” should be appreciated for just that: its ability to make people think.