Incontestably, Spielberg has not rid himself of his grandiosity and his self-indulgence. The overextended running time is simply, contradictory though it sounds to say so, a shortcut to Importance, a direct equation of size with significance. And the assorted lightening, whitening, fading effects in the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, etc.) call attention to themselves in their inconsistency. But of Spielberg's "views" on the Middle East, I know nothing, and need to know nothing, outside the film itself. I did not read the Time interview, let alone the studio press notes, and thus when one of the attacks on the film argues that you cannot sit down and reason with terrorists, I am compelled to protest that the film nowhere says you can. At one point in it, when the assassinations have touched off tit-for-tat reprisals, one of the Israelis grimly proclaims, "We're in dialogue now." So much for peace talks. Somewhere, apparently, because I see it quoted everywhere, the director has described his film as "a prayer for peace." I wouldn't describe it that way. I would describe it as profoundly pessimistic, an outlook verboten among politicians but perfectly permissible among artists -- if I may use the term broadly enough to include Spielberg -- and within the conventions of tales of revenge. (In that respect, the shortcoming of Spielberg's oeuvre overall is that he has been too much the politician and not enough the artist: too much campaigning, too much glad-handing, too much telling people what he supposes they want to hear, not enough telling his own truth.) That a story has connections to the real world and to current events does not require its teller to propose a solution. His only duty is to the story.
This one, making its case strongly, brought back to mind another story of a Mossad assassination plot, The Little Drummer Girl, a John le Carré spy novel put on screen in 1984 by the late George Roy Hill. Though a top-notch thriller, a notch above Munich, it came and went without much of a stir. We can only imagine how the very same film would be received if it were made today. (Provided we can imagine in the first place that it could ever get made today.) To be sure, the world has changed a good deal in the interim. The media blanket is so much more smothering, for one thing. For another, it's now post-9/11. And for another, the conflict in the Middle East has dragged on for precisely twenty-one more years. In Munich, one of the humanized Arabs, a PLO henchman, is heard to say, "It will take a hundred years, but we'll win." If we're marking the days from the birth of Israel in 1948, a hundred years start to sound, at the current pace, like a conservative, an optimistic, estimate. Spielberg's pessimism should not want for sympathizers.