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Sunday, January 22, 2006

We had a "Blogger's Night Out" this past Friday. Mike from Down With Absolutes, Dana Garrett from Delaware Watch, Hube from The Colossus of Rhodey and I got together, along with Mrs. Hube, for dinner and a movie. We agreed to see "Munich" and post reviews about it on our respective blogs.

I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. I did not have high expectations, since I think Spielberg's been on a bit of downhill trend lately. (The past summers' version of War of the World was very disappointing to me, as someone who's seen, read, and listened to just about every adapation of the original novel. Even that awful TV series from the late 80s, which got especially bad after they decided to kill off the two most popular characters after the first season.)

The film takes a decidely pro-Israeli stance, but I'm not sure that speaks negatively about its objectivity. Assuming it's broader historicity is accurate (and I've heard no criticisms of the film on that front), it's pretty clear that Palestinian terrorists were at fault. They attacked a group of innocent athletes. Israel sent hitmen out after those responsible for planning the murders, who were under orders to kill only their targets and avoid innocent deaths. (The film shows the lengths they went to in order to avoid innocent deaths.) In response to the actions by the Israeli "assassins," as they themselves referred to themselves, the Palestinian terrorists attacked more innocent people.

I also thought the film did an excellent job in showing the effects that becoming an assassin had on the main character. A good person by nature, he showed the signs of becoming harder and more paranoid as the film went along. He lost the ability to sleep comfortably in a bed, fearing bombs under it. He unilaterally expanded his teams mission to take retribution after one of their members was assassinated. He became too comfortable with killing, even though the deaths were justified. (Justice doesn't take place only in a courtroom.) Ultimately, he had trouble even walking down a street in New York City, so concerned was he that someone was out to kill him for his part in the operation.

It also made me question if I could do a similar thing: kill someone who I had no doubt deserved the punishment. (I oppose the death penalty, but make exceptions for people who will do anything they can to keep killing even if in solitary confinement for life. Then it's just societal self-defense. Bin Laden is a good example of someone who I'd be comfortable executing.) Even if someone definitely deserved death and I was convinced of it to the core of my being, I'm not sure I could do it. Some people just aren't cut out for it, and I think I'm one of them.

The film dealt well with the moral issues surrounding the mission to execute those responsible for the Munich massacre. The bombmaker on the team pointed out that as Jews they should not be engaging in astions. I believe he even called it non-Jewish. I read criticism of this film beforehand that it only dealt with the Jewish point of view, but if anything, while making clear the Israelis were justified in their actions, I thought it ultimately came down against the actions of Israel. As mentioned before, the bombmaker expressed moral doubts about their actions, and by the end the leader of the team stated they should have arrested their targets and put them on trial rather than summarily executing them. He further argued that killing those men merely put even more barbarous men in their place and made 6 terrorists for every one killed. This point is further driven home by having the movie end with a view of the skyline of New York City with the World Trade Center visible.

Spielberg never states what his alternative to killing the terrorists is, though. Would the Palestinian "street" have accepted the execution of the terrorists if there had been a fair trial beforehand? Of course not. As the movie itself showed, a significant number of Palestinians will not be satisfied until the Jewish state is destroyed. (The movie doesn't deal with this issue, but Arab anti-Semitism predates the creation of Israel, so it's not Israel's mere existance that is the source of the problem.) Actions by the Israeli states provide further excuses, but are not the ultimate cause of the conflict. What does Spielberg think the victims of terrorism should do? He seems to argue that we should subject terrorists to criminal trials, but simple logic shows the folly of that. His position seems to amount to "lie back and take it and maybe they'll stop bothering you."

While capturing the human drama well, Speilberg ultimately fails in his attempt to influence the current political climate. By offering criticism of our current strategy without offering a credible alternative, he weakens the value of his criticisms.

A few nice points in conclusion:
* I enjoyed the scene detailing the "battle" over which radio station to listen to in the safe house. Everybody likes Al Green!
* The first time Eric Bana appeared in the movie, I couldn't help thinking "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
* It was nice to see the acknowledgment by one of the Palestinian terrorists that the Arabs use Palestinians as an excuse rather than actually caring about them.

Ultimately, it was a well-made movie as a movie but failed as a political statement. The evening itself was good. It was nice to see Mike and Dana again and finally meet Hube. Hopefully, we'll do it again some time.

Hube's review is here. See Mike's here. Dana's review is here.

Good review. You liked the movie better than me it seems. I put my review up.

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