a film by Steven Spielberg

I am already - and for a good long time now - predisposed to the pinings of Steven Spielberg, and anyone who knows me has assuredly heard my myriad diatribes upon La Spielberg and how he is a filmmaker of technical skill and know-how, yet seemingly goes through his cinematic routines with little or no soul whatsoever as an auteur - no poetic artistry in order to rightfully make room for his usually trumpeted methodological, and otherwise sound-bodied (if not minded) films to become part of that realm of Olympianesque canonical authority that heralds the works of Murnau, Bresson, Tarkovsky and Mizoguchi as true genius screen-poets of lore.

Sure, the little girl brushstroked in red, running through the black and white Jewish ghetto of Schindler's List is a visually stunning moment, even if it is a bit on the emotionally manipulative side of things - one of Spielberg's less-than-discriminating strengths; and yes, the opening act of Saving Private Ryan stands out as one of the best visions of war ever put onto screen and the Hitchcockian-homaged jump cuts of Roy Scheider during the first broad daylight shark attack in Jaws is a near perfect little slice of hero-worship; but it is the bland - rather hackneyed - style of such "prestige pictures" as The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and the vast majority of the highly overrated Schindler's List (not to mention the second and third acts of Private Ryan), as well as (in my opinion) the most overrated film of all time, E.T. (I don't think I'll ever get why so many people think that film is so great), the trivially awe-inspiring yet overtly mundane Jurassic Park, the swiss cheese riddled A.I. (oh, if only Kubrick had lived another year), the product-placemented set pieced what-the-hell!?ness of The Terminal and the always-deafening Tom Cruise addled Minority Report and War of the Worlds (both encumbered with the added sadness of their possible betterment under different circumstances) that gives Spielberg his taste of failure hidden amongst great success - and it is what gives me the "um, okay" attitude toward his career.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think Spielberg has ever made a bad film (with the noted exception of the too-ridiculous-to-bother-with Peter Pan Christmas opus, Hook) - not even the oft-maligned, yet oddly tender comedy 1941 (of which I may be the sole surviving trumpet-blarer) would I consider a bad film - yet Spielberg still seems like nothing more than a mechanically talented lover, quagmired with the inability to ever bring his lover (i.e. the movie-going public) to full, total and satisfyingly cigarette-lighting orgasm. He sure came close a few times (the cliff-hanging Indiana Jones comes to mind, as does the suburban-malaised Close Encounters and the aforementioned sea song singing jovialness of Jaws) but never quite at that ever-important right exact spot.

It is with this general attitude - and the preceding few (unnecessarily long?) paragraphs of introduction - that I go forth to see the "meistro's" latest, Munich. It is with this - and the well-publicized love-it-or-hate-it (although more love than hate at this point) critical response the film has recieved so far - that I enter the soon-to-be darkened theatre, to see the nearly three hour long, highly-anticipated tale of terrorism (and supposed anti-terrorism?) that could very well hand Spielberg a couple more Oscars to go with the three he already has (although I'm still personally rooting for Brokeback Mountain to do its thing).

And after all my for-what-its-worth hoopla and soap-boxed (and rather long-winded) ramblings on the subject, what is my final conclusion? Well, unfortunately (or is it fortunately, since I somewhat hoped for the film to flop, just so I wouldn't have to admit to really liking a Spielberg project and would be able to keep up my happily lackluster opinion of the man) I am going to have to say that Munich ends up being exactly what I expected; typical Spielbergian mediocrity - not bad, but equally far from being good. In fact I am beginning to believe Spielberg actually may enjoy being average - being everything for everyone (which I suppose is exactly what a Hollywood studio would call the perfect director); and here - again - La Spielberg comes through in his commonest best - failing to excite, instead opting to fluctuate somewhere betwixt teasing titillation and downright emotional embarrassment.

The film starts out with a group of drunken US athletes helping the incognito Palestinian terrorist group "Black September" over the gate and into the Olympic Village, where they will eventually take hostage and slaughter the Israeli Olympic team. Is this a political statement alluding to the US aiding terrorist groups? Probably not considering Spielberg's neocon sypathies, and considering the fine line he tries to thread between the righteousness of the Israeli cause and that of the Palestinian cause (although he does weigh in more on the Israeli side, dropping the periodic raison d'etre the Arab way); but it is in this opening scene along with the quick-edited newsreel montage that follows, where Spielberg is at his auteuristic best, but just like in Saving Private Ryan, he can not manage to follow his opening salvo with anywhere close to equal intensity. Spielberg, again, blows his horn at top lung capacity right away, and gives us a tremedous opening riff, but can never manage to gather the wind back up to initiate a second strike - although there are a few moments of thrill, they fall monotonically to the ground with the thud of pedestrian predictability.

Supurbly acted on all accounts (Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Ayelet Zorer, Lynn Cohen is fabulous in her all-too brief scenes as Golda Mier) and intercut with a handful of the aforementioned tense-yet-predictably-so moments, it is in every other aspect that Munich falls flat flat and flatter. Co-written by the inexplicable Oscar winner for Forrest Gump (and don't get me started on that travesty of art), Munich is probably even lesser than the average Spielbergian work. Stuck somewhere between the subtle calculations of Schindler and the jingoism of Ryan, Munich plays out as if a morality tale told by one of the most shallow, pop-cultured filmmakers in the world.

But, politics aside - after all there is right and wrong on both sides of this eternal conflict and it seems as if Spielberg knows this and hopefully someday both Israel and Palestine will know this too - looking from a strictly cinematic groundswell, Munich is still full of characterizational holes - similar to other Spielberg films - and it is directed with a seeming self importance, which is what Spielberg uses as his directorial furor. Perhaps I am being a little too hard on the old boy - after all he did give me fond childhood memories like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark - and maybe I was wishing for the film to be a mess (a disaster even); but I believe the film speaks for itself - which is not necessarily a good thing in this case.

Spielberg is (to go off on yet another tangent, and a rather alliterative one at that) the auteur of adequate, the director of the dull, the meistro of mediocrity, the helmsman of humdrum, the skipper of so-so, the bourgeois big man of the boilerplate blahs. Whereas the opening is Spielberg at his visual apex, it is in the penultimate scene, where Bana's reluctant assassin, Avner, is shown as being tormented by Spielberg cutting back and forth between his imagining of the Israeli athletes being brutally slain on the Munich airport tarmac and a his somewhat ferocious love-making with - or more acurately, to - his wife, that we see Spielberg at his most heinous and exploitive worst. He is a director trying to burn his candle at both ends, when he may not even be director enough to get the damned candle lit in the first place.

Munich is, in the end (a grating 164 minutes after the aforementioned opening scene), nothing much more than the parts without any sum to equal as a whole. Once again, there is no life flowing through his film; and although well made enough to fool most mainstream critics (with all their whooping and holloring over the whole damned thing) - just read the review from mr. main street USA himself, Roger Ebert - Spielberg's Munich is a major let down, even for someone who is normally let down by this filmmaker. [12/26/05]