Friday, December 30, 2005


I'm finding it difficult to arrange my thoughts on this film into a neat entry, so I'll just throw some out.

  • Eric Bana gives what I think is the best performance of the year. He brings the same profound, noble sadness to this role that he has to many of his others, and it's an understatement to say that he carries the film. I was not aware until I read this NYT profile that he began in comedy. I must now watch all of his films again in the light of his astounding portrayal of Avner Kauffmann.
  • Daniel Craig's performance made me excited to see him as the new Bond, and hopefully the Bond filmmakers will put his glowering menace to good use and bring the character back to what he should be: a stylish psychopath.
  • I've never seen Geoffrey Rush turn in less than excellent work.
  • This film can be seen as a companion piece to Paradise Now. Both deal with the practical and spiritual implications of political violence, though Paradise Now says quite a bit more with quite a bit less.
  • A key line comes in Kauffmann's questioning whether he and his team have been eliminating the terrorist leadership or simply the Palestinian political leadership. This is a distinction that many seem unable or unwilling to make even to this day.
  • The films treatment of sex is troubling. The killing of the woman on the boat is probably the single most disturbing act of violence which I've ever seen in film (edging out the scene in GoodFellas where Liotta clocks the dude about twenty times with the butt of his pistol). In classic lighting-it-up-in-neon fashion, Spielberg wants to make sure we understand that these men have been debased by their violence. Message received. And I won't even go into the climax-flashback sequence, which was just creepy.
  • Interesting reference to Coppola's The Conversation when Kauffmann rips up his bedroom looking for hidden devices. Eventually, Kauffmann begins to fear the Israelis themselves, finally understanding the full implications of the perverse morality which he has been serving: If and when someone decides that Kauffmann himself represents a liability to Israel, his name will be added to The List (as opposed to Schindler's, this list is death.)
  • As in so many of Spielberg's films, there is an absent father (actually two).
  • The most heartbreaking scene takes place between Kauffmann and a member of the PLO, who is unaware of Kauffmann's identity. They stand smoking and talking in a stairwell, for a moment there is almost a faint glimmer of understanding between them, but the moment evaporates and they can only talk past each other, each reciting the cant of his particular sect. They are robots, carrying out programming. During this conversation, a key can clearly be seen around the Palestinian's neck. This is called miftah, and many Palestinians wear these keys to houses from which their families were expelled by the Israeli forces in 1948 and 1967, passing them down as heirlooms. I'm very impressed that Spielberg chose to underscore the scene this way, by subtly but unmistakably referencing the violence and injustice which attended Israel's birth, reminding us that the Munich terror, reprehensible and unjustifiable as it was, was itself a response.
  • It's important to note that religion plays almost no part in the story of this film. At this point it is still a struggle between two largely secular nationalist movements, and Islam would not play much of a role in Palestinian resistance until the late 1970s, fully asserting itself in the first intifada in 1987.
I don't think this movie can be considered a success, but I did like it. It's haunted me for days. It was overlong, and could've lost at least thirty minutes. There are some attempts at comic relief that are totally out of place, as if Spielberg were unwilling to entirely commit to the spirit of the film he set out to make, but it is clearly an important film, one that I hope will mark the beginning of an era in which more (and more subtle and sophisticated) artists grapple with the implications of terrorism for our society.

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