A curious simplicity in the film's vision

"Who has not felt how sadly sweet
The dream of home, the dream of home,
Steals o'er the heart, too soon to fleet,
When far o'er sea or land we roam?" Thomas Moore

If I ask students to name a great living American director, the answer is almost always "Stephen Spielberg." And, of course, they're right. With that fame comes the director's obligation to feed the fans high-quality films as well as satisfy their desire to see films characteristic of that director.

This film critic brought too much of that expectation baggage to Munich, Spielberg's account of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympic games, in which athlete hostages were murdered by the Palestinian terror group Black September. I hoped for insights into the endless battle between Israel and Arabs. What I got was a high-class espionage tale about Israel's attempt to assassinate the Olympic terrorists one by one and a slight nod to the plight of the Palestinians. Much history, little insight.

The pervasive Spielbergean motif of finding home (E.T. for example) is here again in the chief operative, Avner Kaufmann (Eric Bana). After leading a team of 3 others to eliminating most of the terrorists, Kaufmann returns to find life has changed even in his family home, which, like Israel itself, is less safe than when he left on his covert assignment. Here is where the director does his best work by suggesting the endless cycles of crime and punishment, the endless routine of two countries fighting without changing things. "All this blood comes back to us," wisely an assassin observes.

There is a curious simplicity in the film's vision, as if the horrors visited on each country were the result only, for instance, of two countries trying to secure land they believe is theirs. And even that simplicity belies the hatreds that have seethed for ages, separate from the need for land.

My expectations were unmet with Munich: I didn't witness the Spielberg magic of childlike wonder and hope (even those were present in War of the Worlds); I didn't learn much about the complicated conflicts. I'm going to look at Saving Private Ryan to get satisfaction.