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Munich is no Schindler's List

By Bill Steigerwald


January 07, 2006

Don't assume anything in Steven Spielberg's "Munich" is really true.

As it admits in the opening credits, the blood-spattered movie about Israel's revenge killings of 11 Palestinians responsible for slaughtering 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics is "inspired by real events."

Translated from Hollywood doublespeak, here's what director Spielberg's disclaimer is really saying to his trusting audience: "Believe nothing you are about to see or hear. Unless you are a member of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency or an expert on Middle East counterterrorism techniques, you can't possibly distinguish between what's really true and what I've made up. So sit back and let me entertain and misinform you."
jpg Bill Steigerwald

Spielberg's overly long, not-so-great but critically acclaimed geopolitical thriller is not a documentary. Nor is it a $70 million propaganda piece for the state of Israel, which many of his most fevered conservative critics apparently seem to think it should have been.

But "Munich" does purport to tell the story of how Israel's government formed a secret five-man hit squad to find and assassinate the Palestinian terrorists who ordered or planned the deaths of the Israeli athletes.

Trouble is, according to Israeli government sources and some real-world intelligence experts, a lot of Spielberg's "facts" are wrong. For starters, it's not even certain if Israel ever actually created a special hit team.

Besides its factual and historical fuzziness, "Munich" has the usual ration of laughably contrived Hollywood scenes. The worst is a tense slumber party in a safe house in Athens that occurs after a gang of Palestinian terrorists accidentally encounters the Israeli hit men.

Conservatives are gleefully ripping into Spielberg for the liberal political spin he put on "Munich," which was based on a widely discredited book and co-written by leftist anti-Israeli playwright Tony Kushner.

One lame charge made against Spielberg, who is Jewish, is that he over-humanizes some of the Palestinians before they are shot or blown up. Sorry, but humanizing them by giving them cute daughters is better than caricaturing them all as rabid, off-the-shelf Hollywood cartoon terrorists.

A more valid criticism is that Spielberg shows the Israeli hit men as bumbling, angst-ridden metrosexuals having serious doubts about the morality of what they are doing. Mossad insiders say it'd never happen.

The most serious complaint is that Spielberg not only tried to draw parallels between Israel's rogue brand of eye-for-an-eye justice and America's own war on terrorism, but he also created a false moral equivalency between the terrorists and the Israeli agents.

Spielberg is 80 percent guilty as charged. But he's a victim of both his own dumb liberal politics and his need to create the kind of phony drama formulaic American movies demand. He's just the latest example of why Hollywood can never be trusted with reality.

For 100 years, the great moguls and hacks of Tinseltown have invented or rearranged facts, stereotyped real people and crudely manipulated history to serve their often slimy dramatic, commercial and political ends.

Saint Steven is no different. He said last year he didn't want to make another "Charles Bronson movie" with "good guys vs. bad guys and Jews killing Arabs without any context," and he didn't.

But he didn't make another "Schindler's List," either. No matter how many Oscars it wins, "Munich" is just another bad Hollywood message movie.


Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review.
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