"Munich" won't arrive in theaters until Dec. 23, but Steven Spielberg's historical drama/thriller is already catching media flak for its alleged approach.
Eric Bana (right) plays the leader of the counter-terrorist team in 'Munich.' (Universal/DreamWorks)
Various commentators and organizations have expressed concern over Spielberg's angle, sources, motives and even his sensitivity.
Spielberg and company have said precious little about the film, which dramatically recreates Israel's counter-terrorist response to the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The attack on the athletes was carried out by Black September, a group seeking to use the Olympic Games to bring the Palestinian cause to the world stage.
After the attack, Israel launched a counter-terrorist initiative seeking to eliminate what it considered to be known threats to its security at home and abroad. The initiative involved targeted killings of various terrorist masterminds and was reportedly known as "Operation Wrath of God."
In 1984, author George Jonas wrote Vengeance, which provided a detailed account of the operation as told to him by the initiative's leader, referred to in the book as Avner. Some time later, Avner was alleged to be Yuval Aviv, who now works as an intelligence expert in New York City.
Neither Jonas nor Aviv has spoken publicly about the book's account or Avner's real identity. Others, however, have either questioned Jonas' account or simply dismissed it as false. Zvi Zamir, former head of the Mossad (Israel's counter-terrorist agency), has publicly disputed both general and specific elements of the book.
As such, Spielberg's reliance on Vengeance has thrown up red flags from Hollywood to Jerusalem.
Calev Ben-David, writing in a Dec. 1 article for the Jerusalem Post, stuck it to Spielberg on a variety of fronts. He questioned the director's use of Vengeance; his hiring of screenwriter Tony Kushner, whom he terms "an outspoken left-wing critic of Israel"; his apparent belief that Israel's agents had "doubts" about their killing mission; and even his supposed decision not to consult with the victims' families.
Directing his comments directly at Spielberg, Ben-David wrote that "you are using Munich as a means of commenting, in your own way, on the situation of the United States in a post-9/11 reality. But by setting those concerns against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will cleverly sidestep having to contend with the kind of overwhelming backlash you would face if your movie made any direct politically charged controversial statements about America's own current war on terror."
Spielberg, DreamWorks and Universal (which are co-financing the picture) have opted for no press junkets, no premieres, no broadcast interviews. Word is there won't be an Oscar push, though "Munich"—sight unseen—is already a contender.
"Sometimes silence speaks louder than everyone else," said DreamWorks marketing head Terry Press in a Hollywood Reporter article. "There's so much blather in the world that sometimes quiet makes an impression." (Incidentally, Spielberg and the film made the latest cover of Time magazine.)
With deafening silence coming from Spielberg's camp, it's up to the commentators to keep the media ball spinning. That they're doing, with all sorts of angles floating through media outlet after outlet.
"Hollywood has long been loath to portray any Arabs as villains, much less Muslim extremists, mostly because its movies make a lot of money in the Middle East," wrote Nikki Finke in LA Weekly. She offered that "Munich" might de-emphasize the role of the terrorists.
American Thinker, the New York Times and various other papers are all weighing in on Spielberg's latest movie, which he completed in roughly six months.
Spielberg's silence, however, does not translate to indifference over reception. Various sources report that former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, as well as a public relations firm, have all been tapped for advice on the film.
Elan Steinberg, executive director emeritus of the World Jewish Congress, said in a Reuters article that he thinks Spielberg won't encounter backlash from Jewish leaders.
"Many doubted that the maker of action films and movies about aliens from other planets could make a moving film about the Holocaust in 'Schindler's List,'" Steinberg told Reuters. "They were wrong and will be proved wrong again."
Yet, Ivor Davis wrote in an article for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, "The subject matter virtually guarantees that the film will satisfy almost no one with deep feelings about the subject or the politics of the Middle East."
"Munich" stars Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig and Ciaran Hinds. It opens in select theaters December 23 and is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie's official Web site is here.
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