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Thursday, May 22, 2008

MUNICH (2005)

In the aftermath of the tragic murders at the 1972 Munich Olympic, an undercover team of Israeli agents was secretly assigned to hunt down the men responsible. Following their lethal path should make for a natural thriller, rife with politic overtones, but Steven Spielberg’s film casts too broad a net. The Tony Kushner/Eric Roth script doesn’t properly set up the logistics for the sequential manhunts (you need a scorecard to keep everything straight), but then, their real object is to grind out as much philosophical second-guessing amongst the assassins as a three-hour film can sustain, making concrete what should be implicit in the storytelling. You end up with the worst of both worlds, suspense that refuses to gel and moralistic debates that don’t add up to much. Things hit an unexpected nadir when Spielberg, in doling out snippets of the Munich crisis as dramatic punctuation, saves the main catastrophe for use as counterpoint to some rough lovemaking when our noble warrior/hero finally returns home. Spielberg remains a supremely natural film technician and even makes a few stabs at period style with his camera moves and zoom lenses, but his kinetic filmmaking instincts rebuke the script's overarching concept of guilt as a by-product of military operations and the literary feints of moral equivalency on both sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: For a far better look at these issues, and the mind-set of the participants, it's tough to beat the superb 2012 documentary THE GATEKEEPRS, built on remarkably frank interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service in charge of counter-terrorism.

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