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Spielberg's ‘Munich' Peace Plan
December 27, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

"Munich," Steven Spielberg's latest release, is a long way off from the high-minded certitude of "Schindler's List."

Spielberg has referred to the movie as his "prayer for peace."

But an apparent attempt at even-handedness causes the film to fall short of its potential due to a compromised moral perspective.

The film tells the story of the hostage crisis that occurred during the 1972 Olympics (known prior to the tragedy as "The Olympics of Peace and Joy") and a chain of nightmarish events that followed.

The world watched in real time as a Palestinian group (referring to itself as "Black September") kidnapped and murdered two Israeli athletes and subsequently held nine others hostage, all of whom were slaughtered during a botched rescue mission at a nearby airport.

It could be that the Munich tragedy was a fateful spark that ignited the terrorism of today.

Spielberg brought in to his "Munich" project first-time screenwriter Tony Kushner. However, Kushner's forte is challenging social mores ("Angels in America"), and the playwright may not have been the best pick to help craft the presentation of a factual story of such import and gravity.

The choice of source material, too, may not have been the wisest selection. The film was based chiefly on a book by George Jonas called "Vengeance," which has been severely criticized for containing factual inaccuracies.

In the cinematic rendering, a group of individuals is given a somber assignment: Conduct an "eye for an eye" campaign of revenge and assassinate 11 Palestinians thought to be responsible for the Munich disaster.

Avner (Eric Bana), the group's leader, is a hero's son who takes on the mantle but loses confidence in the mission over time.

In contrast to Avner, Steve (Daniel Craig), the most zealous member of the group, seems never to question his own sense of justice.

Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), Avner's contact with the Israeli government, is firm and unrelenting throughout.

The remaining participants are defined largely by their specialties. Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a former toy designer-turned-imprecise-bomb maker. Hans (Hanns Zischler) is the document forger of the bunch. And Carl (Ciaran Hinds) is the cleanup man.

Avner's source of information in the movie is the shadowy Louis (Mathieu Amalric), who at times seems to act as the filmmaker's messenger, expressing disdain for all governments.

In another apparent effort to be fair, this time to both Israelis and Palestinians, Spielberg forces his characters to state all points of view. Consequently, some of the scenes contain artificial-sounding dialogue, with debates taking place on the finer points of the philosophical legitimacy of their missions.

In one scene, unaware of Avner's identity, a young Arab terrorist sets forth an argument for a Palestinian homeland and a justification for terror. The result is a message of moral ambiguity.

Although in the opening credits the words "inspired by real events" appear on the screen, some of the movie's content appears to be nothing of the kind.

Spielberg's film fails to show the actual response of Israel to the deadly incidents at Munich. Following the Olympic athletes' murders, Israel commenced a counter-terror project called "Operation Wrath of God," which sought to assassinate key individuals in part for reprisal, but also in part to prevent future terrorism.

The assignments were not conducted by a single group of recruits, and there was no list of preordained targets.

In reality, the Mossad and Israel's prime minister directed the entire operation, and professionals who were sporadically sent out on multiple missions carried out the assassinations.

"Munich" would have been a more laudable film had Spielberg put on a journalist hat and provided a factual accounting.

Instead he succumbs to moral confusion and engages in diplomacy, Hollywood-style.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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