Monday, February 06, 2006

Tragic Event, Terrific Film

"Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight.
They've now said that there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."

Jim McKay, ABC sports; September 6, 1972

With the Winter Olympic games soon to start in Turin, Italy; riots in the Muslim world about non-Muslim perceptions of Muslims as terrorists thanks to insults to Islam in the form of cartoon renditions of the prophet Muhammad; the Iranian president’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction; the election of an Arab terrorist group opposed to Israel’s existence to the Palestinian parliament as well as ongoing Israeli operations against terrorists, could there be a timelier movie than Munich?

Of course, this is a review of sorts for Munich that is a little late in coming, but what can I say: I don’t choose when American movies are released here, and I can’t really review a movie without having seen it first!

The controversy surrounding the film has been in the news for quite some time before it was released anywhere (it was released in the U.S. in late December, and in Israel in late January). For those who for one reason or another don't know, it is a historically-inspired, Oscar-nominated film that has been charged with defaming and dishonoring Israel, giving terrorists a voice to excuse their acts of murder, and turned Steven Spielberg in the eyes of many Jews (unfairly, in my estimation) from being a Jewish hero to Jewish turncoat.

In my honest opinion, Munich did nothing of the sort and simply proved to be one of the heaviest, action-and-thrills packed, important movies of the post-9/11 era. Again this is, of course, my own opinion. See it and like it, love it, or pan it. That's your opinion. I went into the movie with a lot of preconceptions thanks to the media frenzy surrounding the film and about the book that served as a basis for the storyline, Vengeance. I was wary, but I’d pledged again and again to truly judge the movie only after having seen it, as opposed to the many people – mostly Jews – who because of hearsay decided to let others judge the movie for them (thus surrendering the right to think for themselves). I went in expecting to be very critical and analytical during the movie, and found myself sitting back and actually pumping my fist and quietly cheering when terrorists were a)shot in Europe, b) blown up in Europe, c) shot in Beirut, etc. This is only one aspect of the movie that drew me in, though.

It was a given from pre-production that this movie would strike a particular chord, or nerve, with Jews in particular.

Munich’s dramatizing the horror of the brutal terrorism tha
t did not derail the Olympic Games in West Germany over 33 years ago, as well as the swift response of Israel to that heinous attack – and a not-so-surprising cameo of the Twin Towers in New York, 1973 - makes it a movie that not only calls out for an understanding from all people of the threat of terrorism, but also one that issues a call for our acknowledgement of the necessary limits that we as humans of any religion or nationality must place on ourselves when we accept that human life has an intrinsic value.

shows that we can sometimes out of necessity overstep those limits to defend ourselves or defend our country and people, but in the end we often risk paying a heavy price for doing so.

Eric Bana (as Avner) and the other actors portraying the Israeli strike team – including Daniel Craig, who is to play James Bond in the next 007 movie, Casino Royale – and Avner’s mother and wife, humanize Jewish Israelis in a way that I can only really compare to the movie Exodus, and the book of the same name (Geoffrey Rush’s character isn’t all that likeable – but then again, not all movie characters are likeable). Granted, there is the perception that Jews must always have some sort of guilt about something, and one fault of this movie is that at one point it seems to go overboard showing this. Be that as it may, more often than not, Israelis are unfairly portrayed in the media and elsewhere simply as uncaring , warmongering soldiers (or to put it a bit differently, we Jews are either meek, conspiratorial, brutal, or some combination of those three).

On the whole this was refreshingly not so with Munich, which showed the Israeli counter-terrorist assassins as what Israelis really are: human beings, with morals, values, emotions, faults and limits which can be reached to devastating effect. Angry, furious at the acts of Black September, but human nonetheless. And yes, Munich did show the Arab terrorists as human beings too…which, let’s admit, they are despite their ideologies and actions. They’re just the kind of humans who plot the kidnapping and murder of innocent civilians and carry it out on live TV. We all have our faults, and theirs made them deserving of death.

Terrorism is a human problem, after all.

And even though it is blood-soaked at times, the film doesn’t go out of its way to glorify the violence of fighting terrorism, nor does it desensitize the audience to the brutality of terrorist attacks themselves. How can realistically showing death be gratuitous in a film like this? Anyway, Munich isn’t exactly Schindler’s List meets Saving Private Ryan either – Jews with guns and bombs entering Europe and killing those who plot to kill them. Still, one would be forgiven for thinking this is the message of the film when Daniel Craig, as “Steve”, sums up for understanding Israel’s motives in going after the Black September terrorist planners – “Don’t fuck with the Jews” – as the counter-terrorist team “celebrates” following a successful operation against one of the Palestinian planners of the Munich massacre.

The scenes of the actual terrorist attack that brought about the events the movie chronicle, the taking of 11 Israeli athletes as hostages by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, are spread throughout the movie and pack a punch, both to the heart and the eardrums, despite their taking up only a smidgen of the overall movie’s length.

Everything, from the way the terrorists enter the Olympic Village to their entering the Israelis’ rooms to the tragic end of the hostage crisis at Furstenfeldbruck airport (thanks in no small part to West German blundering) is heart-rending to the sympathetic or innocent viewer. The combination of historical footage (news broadcasts of the actual event, including images of a ski-masked terrorist, a still from the actual footage I’ve included in this post) and actors portraying the real people in the movie only added to the impact of each scene as it played out on screen. It still affects me, 24 hours after having seen the movie.

Munich was terrific. It's not perfect – there are a few things I could criticize, or label as a bit disturbing – but my 35 shekels were well spent on this movie. As were the 4.5 shekels on the ice cream bar I bought during the intermission. Yeah…they have intermissions here. No matter the length of the movie. Israelis need their smoke break.

Speaking of which, it was very surreal for me to see this movie in Israel, as an American Jew who has adopted Israel as a home – I doubt that I would have felt exactly about it as I did had I not moved here. You know, I’ve always kind of wondered what goes through the mind of New Yorkers when they see their city talked about and showcased on screen – it happens so often, I wonder if they are desensitized to it or if they analyze it to see if their city and its citizens are portrayed faithfully. But with Israel, you hardly ever see anything about it on-screen. Recently, aside from very, very short sequences and references in the movie The Sum of All Fears, Israel is barely mentioned or shown by a Hollywood film industry that, let’s admit it, has a lot of good Jews helping to decide what films get made and, in the case of Steven Spielberg, directed too.

The scenes of the movie set in Israel itself are what I speak of: to hear Hebrew spoken (however briefly) on the screen in a Hollywood movie (thankfully not similar to the way Bruce Willis does it in The Whole Ten Yards)….to see Israel of the early 70s portrayed as faithfully as possible (thanks to set pieces and not actual on-location shooting in Israel), with Hebrew signage and posters, soldiers in uniform, Hebrew subtitles on TV sets, etc…well, it was surreal for me, like I said. Unreal and yet so very real for me at the same time.

It was fitting that as my co-worker friends and I saw a movie about the State of Israel in the 1970s chasing down and killing terrorists, the State of Israel sent a couple of Islamic Jihad terrorists in the Gaza Strip one-way tickets to Allah in the form of a missile strike. That alone reminds this American in Israel that Munich, a work of fact-based fiction (whatever the accuracy of its sources) is much less a Hollywood thriller, much more a dramatized chapter of a real-life,
ongoing war.

And while I support the methods used to fight Islamic terrorism, it is fair to ask sometimes,
is there peace at the end of this? Sadly, we aren't the ones with the answers right now.

"Sports lost its innocence that day in Munich." - Jim McKay to the Associated Press in 2002

No comments: