Taking No Side is Taking a Side

Munich – 2005 – dir. Steven Spielberg

★★★★/★★★★

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I don’t think I ever expected to see a film that could follow Schindler’s list. I think I always imagined that it would be a film to watch on its own and consider the purely horrific crimes of the Nazis, the potential for human compassion from both Schindler and Itzhak Stern, and the destructive toll of violence on the world. I never expected to feel that there may be another film to fit naturally fit to the conversation. That was until I saw Munich. While its place politically will always taint its fit within the history of film, Munich is an incredible story about the destructive power and vicious cycle of violence, and it says something vitally important especially as we continue to be engaged in conflicts overseas.

At the Munich Olympics in 1972, eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually assassinated by a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September. The Prime Minister of Israel and her cabinet decide to send a secret team of Mossad agents to Europe to assassinate eleven targets who were involved in the planning of the Munich massacre. As they begin to complete their assignments the team leader, Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), and other members of the team and their informants question the retaliatory methods of the Israeli government.

This thematic element got Spielberg and the film’s writer (Tony Kushner) in quite a bit of trouble. Released in 2005 at the height of support for intervention in the Middle East, especially with Israeli support in the US, this film said that not only was Israel maybe not right in their retaliatory and aggressive stance towards Palestinians and the Arab states in general, but that perhaps the Palestinians had some reason to be angry. This totally rejects the standard pro-Israel dogma of the west and it came from two of Hollywood’s most prominent Jews at that (Spielberg and Kushner). And that commentary above is all you need to know about this film to tell if you will enjoy it. If you are a) pro-Palestine (like myself) or b) can put your pro-Israel politics aside then you will enjoy this film. But it’s not that the film is pro-Palestine; in fact the best way to describe the politics is that Spielberg and Kushner refuse to take a side. They decry the violence of the Israelis, and while justifying the emotions of the Palestinians, decry their actions as well. Munich doesn’t take a side, and that says a hell of a lot about the state of American politics. Not taking a side is taking a side. Refusing to support Israel in a blunt and direct way apparently means that you are anti-Israel. And eight years later it can be said that nothing has changed.

Munich is a tense and intense thriller. It tears at your emotions and makes you feel uncomfortable. And as only truly affecting films can do, it’s had my thoughts for days (which will probably turn into weeks) since the initial viewing. The performances are great, the writing is powerful, and it maintains Spielberg’s reputation as being the master of moving and emotional cinema. 

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