Spielberg has certainly been growing a conscious these days even if he’s still the sentimentalist at heart. Perhaps it was the work on adapting Kubrick that reminded him of the world around him. Of course one can harken back to such PC works as Schindler’s List and Amistad etc etc. But taking a look at his last five projects as director one can sense a political conscious that goes a bit beyond typical hollywood liberalism. Of those projects (Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War of the Worlds and Munich) only War of the Worlds does not have a government agent cast as a villain. In that film it is all of humanity that is fucked not just the citizens of a particular country.
With Munich Spielberg has created an allegory (albeit with predictable character arcs and empty symbolism) for understanding how violence perpetuates violence and how the eye for an eye system on a government bankroll only corrupts the lives of the players and does little to solve the bigger political issues at stake. This message is played out most clearly in a scene midway through the movie when the assassins somehow get placed in a safe house with group of PLO agents. Already asleep our protagonists get roused in the middle of the night by the sound of voices headed towards their room. They immediately draw their guns prompting a similar action by the PLOs. What follows is a Tarantino-esque “mexican standoff” with a lot of yelling. The camera frantically captures the nervous energy as everyone is waiting for the first shot to be fired. It’s Avner (the protagonist) who puts his gun down first encouraging the PLO agents and Israelis to try to open up a verbal dialog that leads to both sides’ preservation.
This film is perhaps Spielberg’s most violent film to date (Private Ryan included). The blood and gore are appropriately horrifying perhaps more so because the victims are real human beings with motivations aside from their political and religious beliefs. Every death is a gruesome one because the audience has seen the character at home playing with his children, at a public reading of his book, as a motivated nationalist who is happy to die for sake his country. The scenes of the actual Munich massacre are wonderfully inter-cut at key points in the film becoming a rallying cry at times and at others a horrifying meditation on violence and needless death. By the time we see the actual methods of death of the hostages and terrorists the audience has had the curtain removed on any sense of moral objectivity. There no terrorist = bad, hostage = good. It’s just a series of needless deaths by a bunch of scared men who have lost sight of what brought them to the front-lines in the first place.
Magnificently shot the film pays homage to Spielberg’s own stomping ground in 70s realist cinema. The hand-held techniques and extravagant zooms help sell the movie which takes place in the early part of the 1970s. A number of over exposed and grainy sequences also cement this aesthetic. There is an entire scene towards the end of the film that is essentially a direct quote of “The Conversation”. The mode brings a mocking commentary to the international spy action flick ala James Bond. There are the beautiful European locations, back alley contacts, explosions, guns. Its real power, in fact, is the ability to turn that genre against itself into a criticism of overzealous governments and the pain of death on the individual. This is the kind of commentary that needs to spark a dialog in this country and abroad. It is important that a big player like Spielberg decided to use his clout to make a visual symbol of corruption and violence. Spielberg’s allegory hits home with the closing as the camera firmly centers on lower Manhattan; the twin towers squarely in the center of the frame.