Executioner's Song


reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, January 30, 2006


Conservatives have much reason to complain about the movie industry, but it could be worse. For example, the critics' darling is the morally irresponsible Quentin Tarantino, yet within Hollywood, he is treated as an amusing lightweight. Instead, the most prestigious and influential figure is the director, producer, and former executive Steven Spielberg.

An Eagle Scout who earned a remarkable 48 merit badges, Spielberg's lack of alienation from traditional American values has always disturbed the culturati, who assume that Úpater le bourgeois should be the essential goal of any artist. Indeed, Spielberg may have been the most effective critic of the sexual revolution. The son of divorced parents, Spielberg's favorite theme has been the pain caused children by their parents' self-indulgence. (He himself is on his second wife, actress Kate Capshaw, but perhaps his private life, like Ronald Reagan's, should be judged by Hollywood's standards.)

As Paul Johnson noted in his History of the Jews, it's common for assimilated, crowd-pleasing Jews to turn back toward Jewish questions as they age. This process has added depth to the later work of Spielberg, who at age 59 describes himself as a moderately observant Jew.

Spielberg's softheaded politics, while slightly right of center for Hollywood, are very much in the mainstream of Jewish liberalism. I've come to appreciate them more over the last few years as we've seen the damage done by the neoconservative and the neoliberal war hawks.

Spielberg might bear some indirect responsibility for America's pointless wars in Kosovo and Iraq. Few 1990s movies had more emotional influence on the Washington punditariat than "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan." The former made baby boomer policy wonks want to fight genocide like Schindler, and the latter left them feeling distressingly inferior to their fathers of the "The Greatest Generation." Thus, the neolibs and neocons went looking for their own Hitlers to fight. (Well, they didn't want to fight them personally, but they definitely wanted other people's sons to go smite Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein for them.)

"Munich," though is being denounced by the neocons for the crime of ambivalence about Israel.

Unlike the smug leftist tract "Syriana," an unfunny "Fahrenheit 9-11" that blames all the troubles of the Middle East on Big Oil, "Munich" reflects the centrality and complexity of Israel's role.

"Munich" begins at the 1972 Olympic games, where eight Black September terrorists massacred eleven Israeli Olympians. Golda Meir's government then authorized the assassination of Palestinian leaders who might (or might not) have been involved, but the subsequent details remain in dispute. The movie follows George Jonas' uncorroborated 1984 book Vengeance about a purported five-man death squad sent by Mossad to Western Europe. Eric Bana, the tall, sensitive, and ineffectual-looking Croatian-Australian actor who played Hector in "Troy," stars as their leader.

"Munich" skips the 1973 mistaken identity fiasco in Lillehammer, Norway, where Mossad agents gunned down an innocent Moroccan waiter. Moreover, the film, like Jonas's book, attributes the wetwork gang's inside dope on the location of their targets to a business arrangement with "Le Group," a preposterous French family firm of freelance spies, presumably to distract us from the more plausible ways that Mossad might have obtained leads, such as torture.

Still, Spielberg views revenge as a dirty job, where much can go wrong. Four of the agents become conflicted. Should Jews, of all people, they agonize, take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? Only one killer is so cold-blooded and ethnocentric as to snarl, "The only blood I care about is Jewish blood." And to underscore the near-Nazi reprehensibility of this view, Spielberg cast the blond-haired, blue-eyed, Teutonic-looking Daniel Craig, the English actor recently hired to be the next James Bond. (As with many moguls, Mr. Spielberg likes blonde women, such as Mrs. Spielberg, more than blond men.)

To express his queasy uncertainty about the murder mission, Spielberg trades in his usual bluish-gray color scheme for a sickly greenish-gray cast. "Munich" is grim and often grueling, but just when you begin to lose patience, Spielberg inserts some brilliant bits of entertainment.

Nonetheless, "Munich" is unlikely to please a large audience. The true believers on both sides will be infuriated by Spielberg's even-handedness. And those without a dog in this fight may feel that while they approve of vengeance in the abstract, they no more want to watch it being carried out than death penalty supporters want to attend public hangings.

Rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.


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