There's controversy surrounding Steven Spielberg's new political thriller film 'Munich,' but the director's yet to publicly address it. Neoconservatives (or, "NeoCons") are at the heart of the controversy, saying that 'Munich' is too sympathetic of Palestinian terrorists. Based on real-life violent events involving Palestinians and Israelis, 'Munich' stars Eric Bana, and opens Friday (Dec. 23) in North America; the film will be released next month in other countries, including Israel.
'Munich' tells the tale of a group of undercover agents sent by the Israeli government to kill the Palestinian terrorists who themselves assassinated 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The film's screenplay was adapted by playwright Tony Kushner from the George Jonas book 'Vengeance,' which told the story from the point of view of the Israeli agents' leader, played by in the movie by Bana.
Spielberg has mostly avoided making public statements about the 'Munich' controversy. So far, he's only granted one interview about the movie, to Time magazine, in which Spielberg said he wanted the film to be 'a prayer for peace.'
'Munich' is a joint venture from DreamWorks and Universal. A DreamWorks representative for the film did not return calls by TMZ's deadline. A Universal spokesperson tells TMZ that neither the studio nor Spielberg had any comment.
Spielberg has been publicly sidestepping the controversy, but behind the scenes it appears that he's preparing for damage control. He's hired public relations consultant Eyal Arad (a PR aide to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon) to help promote 'Munich' in Israel. And crisis-communications specialist Allan Mayer is acting as a 'marketing consultant' to the film, according to sources. Mayer has previously worked with Halle Berry, Tommy Lee and R. Kelly. Mayer and Arad were unavailable for comment.
The backlash against 'Munich' has to do with the "the strategy of neoconservatives wanting to demonize Palestinians as hatred-driven terrorists," says Hastings College of Law professor George Bisharat, whose specialties include Middle Eastern politics. The 1972 Olympic massacre is a sore subject for Israelis because, "It was an event that made many Israeli citizens feel like they couldn't be secure anywhere in the world," says Bisharat. "That feeling has only intensified since then."
The release of 'Munich' comes at a time when other political movies, such as 'Syriana' and 'Paradise Now,' have been getting praise as well as criticism over their portrayal of terrorists. 'Munich' has been nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture Director for Spielberg, and Best Motion Picture Screenplay for Kushner and Eric Roth.
'Munich' has landed on many film critics' best-of-the-year lists, and insiders are predicting that 'Munich' will also earn multiple Oscar nominations.
Spielberg has weathered controversy for his work before when his 1993 movie 'Schindler's List' came under fire by conservative Jews who said the film gave a sympathetic portrayal of Nazis. 'Schindler's List' went on to win several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg.
"Israelis live in one of the great military powers of the world, but it's combined with great insecurity caused by terrorism," concludes Bisharat. "I wish this film ['Munich'] would educate people of the futility of an entirely military response to terrorism."