I am notoriously sensitive to people revealing the plots of television series and films. As pharma geek Anthony correctly diagnosed, I watch things long after their broadcast/release, often via Amazon’s cheap and cheerful rental-by-post system, and I don’t have a TV. A side-effect is that many of my reviews here are out-of-date, but at least they don’t contain spoilers, even when the stories are well known. It might take me some time to construct my post about The Nativity.

Once again in the vanguard of cinema studies, I bring you verdicts on Munich from me and from PooterGeek’s Paris/Istanbul correspondent Claire Berlinski who saw it with her fiancé David Gross, a man who photographs mass graves for a living. Seriously. I should point out that Claire wrote the review of hers that I quote last year, when it had some kind of topicality, and that both reviews come from our email exchanges with a mutual friend.

Here’s Claire [not blockquoted, for ease of reading]:

“So, David and I saw Munich last night. I didn’t much want to see it, since I was sure I would only find it agonizing, but David wanted badly to see it and it was the only thing playing in English that looked remotely interesting. (It was playing, by the way, right across the street from Valley of the Wolves.)

“I have to say, I cannot for the life of me imagine why the movie has been charged with moral relativism. Frankly, apart from the fact that the Israeli assassins are portrayed as vaguely bumbling, this could have been a Mossad propaganda film, so vile do the Palestinians appear and so deeply moral the Israelis, both to the point of caricature. The Palestinians are depicted as gleeful slaughtering animals who are entirely willing to kill civilians; the Israelis by contrast are devoted family men, introspective to the last, deeply reluctant to take human life and anguished by any possibility of causing harm, even emotional harm, to the innocent.

“Much has been made of Spielberg’s suggestion that the Israelis felt guilty and tormented by what they did, but this hardly amounts to a suggestion that the Israelis and Palestinians are morally equivalent; indeed, quite the opposite: the effect, and I daresay the intended effect, is to suggest that Israelis resort to violent with unbearable reluctance, and take no pleasure in killing, even when it is entirely justified. The movie doesn’t even mention or allude to the one truly ghastly aspect of the operation, the killing of that hapless Norwegian waiter.

“I didn’t think it was a particularly good movie—the acting is crappy; it’s too long, and the plot makes no sense (and isn’t realistic)—but I certainly don’t think it’s guilty of what it’s been charged with.”

My group reply, almost a year later:

“I finally got to see Munich on DVD yesterday. Having done so I think Claire summed it up pretty well and I’ve quoted your/her email. The reason I think that people made the moral equivalence attack was because of that sequence where the faces of the terrorists are superimposed over the faces of the victims (or it might have been the assassins—I can’t remember which, but I do remember wincing). This happens pretty early on so I suspect that it set the opinions of a lot of lazy reviewers for the rest of the film. It was satisfying to discover from the extra material on the disc that the screenplay was by a playwright because the film had plenty of that awful clunky West End/Broadway discussion of Ideas that the sort of stupid rich people who are regular theatregoers mistake for sophistication.

“In the film’s defence, even when I was bored by what was going on I boggled at the sheer quality of Spielberg’s craft. He comes up with corny settings—the sunlit gardens full of children where the [CENSORED FOR SPOILER] hides away, the river-pad of the [CENSORED FOR SPOILER], the rain-sodden back streets of [CENSORED FOR SPOILER], the urban scrub with [CENSORED FOR SPOILER] for [CENSORED FOR SPOILER] and his handler—but he does it so much better, so much more convincingly than anyone else that you can almost forgive him. He believes in Hollywood so you believe in it too. There were so many absurdly well composed shots that I wondered if he was using digital trickery to assemble them from multiple sources. Everyone says you can’t make a good film from a bad script, but if anyone could it would be Spielberg.

“(By the way, Claire, if I blog this then can I quote you online?)”

[One of the reasons I didn’t go to see the film at the cinema when it first appeared was that I knew that it was based on a widely discredited book written about the events by someone claiming to have been part of the assassination team, and perhaps that’s why the well-known fatal case of mistaken identity doesn’t appear, but I don’t know.]

This is the sort of stuff that keeps you people coming back to PooterGeek every day. Where else could you read a heavily cut, year-overdue movie reviews, copied from round-robin emails?