“Munich” is not Steven Spielberg’s best movie, but that’s not saying much. Even at his worst Spielberg spins a very, very good yarn, and his latest, a spy thriller about Israelis hunting down Palestinian terrorists in the wake of the 1972 Olympics massacre, is by no means his worst.
It does seem to be bringing out the worst in just about everyone around him, though. Somehow the word has gotten out that this is the moment to pile on to Hollywood’s biggest moneymaker, and now, as Jimmy Durante used to say, everybody wants to get in on the act. Cinema purists sneer at the straightforward storytelling, apparently having just learned that Spielberg isn’t Kurosawa. Intellectuals are shocked — shocked! — to find that Spielberg’s moral messages are uncomplicated ones of loyalty and kindness. Presumably they’ve never seen “E.T.”
Oddest of all, defenders of Israel are working themselves into a lather over the film’s supposed anti-Israel animus. Critics from the Jerusalem Post to the New York Times have attacked “Munich” for “humanizing” and “excusing” Palestinian terrorists, for having “no place in its heart for Israel,” for reading a dangerous “moral equivalency” into the Middle East conflict.
This is odd because the film ultimately is not about the Middle East conflict. It is, in the deepest sense, an Israeli story about Israelis struggling to reconcile duty and conscience, to make sense of the violence imposed on them by their enemies. True, Spielberg did tell Time magazine that he sees the film as a “prayer for peace,” a parable about the dangers of intransigence on both sides. But