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Saturday, January 07, 2006


My husband and I went to the Essex Outlet Cinemas this evening to see the newest Steven Spielberg epic, Munich. From our usual perch in the top row I was afraid we'd go snow blind from all the white hair glistening in the audience, but that's to be expected I suppose because this is a serious movie, a serious movie about international politics, a serious movie about international politics and terrorism, and on top of everything else it is based on true events and set in the 1970s. Oh, and a horror movie opened next door so everybody under 30 was in there salivating at the thought that they might see some bloodshed and gore, completely oblivious to the fact that this was where the real blood would be spilled for this movie may be called Munich, but it is definitely not a travelogue.

Okay, I guess in the interest of full disclosure I should be completely honest. Not everybody under 30 was seeing
Hostel. As crowded as our theater was we found ourselves seated next to a quartet of high school students, which, frankly, amazed me, as this didn't seem like obvious material they'd be wanting to see on a Friday night out. Well, I should have known better than to ask. It turns out they were there for a a class project they were working on ~ a history class. Sigh. My memories are now classified as history to a whole other generation. I guess I should just be glad they didn't say it was for an ancient history class, but I digress.

Munich begins with the sinister Palestinian terrorist group Black September storming the Israeli Olympic team's dorm in the Olympic village in Munich, Germany on the night of September 5, 1972. During the next 24 hours, a tense stand-off ends with all eleven Israeli captives killed by their abductors, and the eight terrorists who took the athletes killed in a shootout with German police.

Back in Israel, Prime Minister Golda Meir (played by uncanny lookalike Lynn Cohen) assembles the heads of the Mossad and the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, to plan what action to take in the aftermath of this national tragedy to show the Palestinians that what happened in Munich
will not go unavenged and unpunished and shall never happen again. Of course to do this, Meir and the Israeli government must disavow any knowledge of or allegiance to those who will exact revenge on the ones who were behind the slaughter of the Olympic team. Meir herself handpicks her former bodyguard Avner (Eric Bana, best remembered from Troy) to lead the team of covert operatives and Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush, Best Actor Academy Award winner for 1996's Shine) provides the technical, financial, and informational conduits Avner and his men need to complete their mission.

What follows is an intricate plot worthy of any Mission Impossible film, more astounding when one considers that this is based on "real" life and not "reel" life. Most of the film tracks the team as they search out and terminate seven of the eleven targets Mossad has given them as well as any number of accomplices along the way.

As interesting as the political intrigue and drama, so are the psychological aspects of Avner's "job" that Spielberg explores in depth. Bana is amazing showing the degeneration of mind and spirit that consume Avner as he slowly loses his grip on the life and sanity that he had with his wife at home in Israel now that he is living cut-off from his family, a man without a country, unable to express his identity, his religion, and even his opinions
without the constant fear of assassination. Bit by bit he becomes more and more paranoid of even his own team members and closest confidants. But the most important question is the most obvious: is it really paranoia when there could very well be any number of killers out to get you?

Spielberg shows great courage in taking a neutral position in presenting both sides of the fundamental Israeli/Palestinian conflicts. Obviously, Spielberg is a well-known and devout Jew who gave the world Schindler's List in 1993. It must have been tempting at times to want to editorialize, and it is disheartening to hear that the Jewish press has been rabid in their skewering of Spielberg for not doing so, but it is his balanced argument that makes his best case. Probably one of the most memorable scenes in the film comes when Avner, while undercover, shares an emotional exchange with Black September member Ali (played by Omar Metwally) who obviously doesn't know that Avner is Jewish and an Israeli. Thinking they are both Palestinian, Ali opens up to him, expressing to Avner a point of view Avner had never been exposed to as an Israeli before. Just the fact that Spielberg gave "the other side" a legitimate voice is by far a more remarkable step towards peace than any politician has afforded the opposition in this conflict in the past three decades. It shows not only a lot of class but also a realization that "we" and "they" are not so different in what each wants. It just depends on which side of the fence you happen to find yourself at birth that determines the label you call the other guy.

One great bonus to be found in
Munich is an opportunity for American audiences to check out Daniel Craig, who plays Steve, one of Avner's team. Craig has been around for years, but he has mostly gone unnoticed in lots of good British films until recently. He has, however, garnered a great deal of attention in the past few months since it was announced that he is scheduled to take the reins as the new James Bond beginning next year, so this offers a sort of Bond-in-training role for Craig, providing him plenty of gunplay and action, even if he is lacking babes in bikinis or martinis shaken not stirred.

Leaving the theater I couldn't help but feel a bit shakened and stirred myself. Maybe it was realizing that the past 32 years have gone by way too fast, or maybe it was seeing all that polyester and bad fashion from the period. Of course since I actually wore that polyester and bad fashion in high school I'd like to blame my condition on the general vast waves of violence that are depicted throughout the film, but it was more likely that my condition was caused by the mystery food I ate earlier in the afternoon ~ that spooky Tupperware container of leftovers tucked in the back of my fridge that was either a badly seasoned green bean casserole or an unfortunately aged lasagna, neither of which I remember preparing in the past six months, but hey! I was in a hurry, it was an interesting hue of green...ishness... and when I want to get to my Essex Outlet Cinemas I want to get to my Essex Outlet Cinemas. The thing I need to remember next time though is that as much as I love the
Essex Outlet Cinemas, it's the movies (and the staff) that I love. The bathrooms there are lovely, 'tis true, but I could stay home for that, if you know what I mean, and I'm sure the staff would appreciate that too.

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