ST. JOHN, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS -- The camera always lies. That is one of my most dearly held beliefs, and an early screening of Steven Spielberg's "Munich," which I saw last week, provides me with more evidence. The camera always lies -- and Steven Spielberg lies quite a lot too, at least when he uses a camera pursuant to his Art.
Not long ago he did a movie, "Shark Tale," in which all the bad guys spoke with Italian accents and were supposed to summon up visions of the mafia. This movie was for children. Spielberg covers himself on this sort of thing by speaking out against stereotyping even as he stereotypes. Now he has committed another simplistic botch. In "Munich" he portrays a hit team of Israeli agents ordered to kill the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics as morally equivalent to the terrorists. That, of course, is untrue. The act of the Israeli agents is morally justified as an attempt not only to eliminate murderers but also to demonstrate to the terrorists' leaders that kidnapping private citizens will not further their political goals. In the anarchy of terrorist war what the Israelis did is, alas, for the good and morally defensible.
But Spielberg's camera lies in other ways. The movie begins with a chaos of scenes exploding across the screen and lasting far too long. This is an assault on the senses, not an engagement of intellect. In fact the whole movie is an assault on the senses and hardly ever an engagement of intellect. And the assault -- which is to say, the movie -- lasts far too long. After enduring "Munich" the normal viewer will be in need of a drink or some other sort of "coping mechanism," as they say.
I attended the movie with a veteran of law enforcement officer who sneered at howlers committed by Spielberg's camera. Almost everything was exaggerated. Bullet holes on the lovely body of a beautiful naked actress were far larger than they would be with the caliber guns used to shoot her. The body of a knifed Mossad agent was perfectly and dramatically filmed as sitting upright on a bench, to the snickers of my friend who pointed out that the knife wound would have caused the dead person's muscles to relax and the corpse to fall over. Action was everywhere. Explanation was almost nonexistent.