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Friday, January 13, 2006

Extreme Movie Makeovers?

Caryn James, a critic for the NYT, claims this morning that a recent spate of long films (King Kong and Munich) need a nip and tuck, and should have followed the example of The New World, which just slimmed down as it went to wide release.  Having seen Munich just last night, I must register a slight dissent.  (Interestingly, Leon Wieseltier agreed with James: "The real surprise of Munich is how tedious it is.")  Whereas King Kong was extravagantly long (and over-hyped), Munich actually was no problem for me to sit through, notwithstanding my fidgety nature.  On the merits of the film, I thought Spielberg crafted a visually compelling portrait of the Israeli government's response to the Munich massacre, and the anguished difficulties faced by the individuals involved in that response.  Tedium aside, Leon's principal complaint targeted Tony Kushner's screenplay for pushing the two opposing sides of Palestinian (and other Islamist) terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism into moral equipoise. He writes that the movie's "complexity" reduces to the following:

Palestinians murder, Israelis murder. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil, Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents, Israelis kill innocents. All these analogies begin to look ominously like the sin of equivalence, and so it is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective. (I am referring only to the war between the terrorists and the counterterrorists. The larger picture is darker. Over the years more civilians were killed in Israeli air strikes than in the Palestinian atrocities that provoked those air strikes. The justice of Israel's defense of itself should not be confused with the rightness of everything that it does in self-defense.)

For what it's worth, neither my fiancee nor I left the film with the same quiet anger that Wieseltier did, even though I usually find myself persuaded by his arguments on political life.  The movie's intensity also benefits from the large screen, so if you were thinking about holding back or waiting until Netflix, you might want to reassess -- if only to enjoy the dissonance of seeing Daniel Craig, the new (blond and blue-eyed!) James Bond, play an assassin who claims that the only blood he cares about is Jewish blood.

Update--my bad manners and early senior moment: I neglected to link to Paul's earlier post on Munich, with typically shrewd commentary.

Posted by Administrators on January 13, 2006 at 10:11 AM in Film | Permalink


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Ruchira, Craig was the blond middle-aged member of the Avner Kauffman group. Don't know whether his character was based on a real person. And, given his statements at the group anguish "sessions" in the movie, it seems like his participation was driven far more by ideological concerns than mercenary ones.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jan 13, 2006 1:32:25 PM

I liked Munich and as you say, am glad that I saw it on the big screen. I did not find it tedious at all (although I felt my husband fidgeting a bit once the bucket of popcorn had been consumed). I have not done any in depth reading about the film - reviews, artistic liberties etc. Please shed some light on the Daniel Craig character. What was his motivation? Just mercenary or ideological? Was his character Jewish? Was he South African? And was it based on a real person?

Posted by: Ruchira Paul | Jan 13, 2006 12:56:12 PM

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