After months of fending off pro-Israel pundits who accused his movie Munich of overly sympathising with Palestinians, director Steven Spielberg has found a new foe in the Jewish state: bored critics.
The film opened in Israel over the weekend to hostile reviews focusing more on cinematic technique than any assumed political message in the depiction of the Israeli hunt for the masterminds of a Palestinian raid on the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The conservative Jerusalem Post newspaper called the thriller "muddled, inept, offensive – and boring to boot".
"There is something slovenly about the way in which Spielberg constructs the film, a slovenliness that leaks into the directing style itself," the liberal Haaretz said.
Shirit Gal, the Israeli publicist for Munich, said on Monday that around 25,000 tickets had been sold for the film – a turnout she called "good" although Hollywood blockbusters have drawn 35,000 in their opening weekends in Israel.
"I am sure the reviews will have had some effect," Ms Gal said.
US critics have been kinder to Munich. It is on several Top Ten lists, with some predicting it will win Academy Awards. Arrayed against the praise are pundits who accuse Spielberg of using the film to criticise Israel's two-fisted security tactics and, by extension, the US-led "war on terror".
The dispute was triggered last year by disclosures that Spielberg had based Munich on a widely discredited book about Israel's reprisals for the killing of 11 of its Olympians, and had not consulted with those involved in the actual operations.
Haaretz came to the film-maker's defence. "Cinema has no obligation to chronicle history, even if by its very existence the film becomes part of history, often representing it or even replacing it in our memories," it said.
The debate was largely lost on mainstream Israelis who best remember Spielberg for his Holocaust epic Schindler's List.
"The only people likely to see this film as anti-Israel are those on the right-wing fringes, and even then, only those with serious ideological blindness," said the YNetnews Web site.
Another reviewer disliked Spielberg's portrayal of an Israeli hit-team – not because of the nature of the mission, but because its members are occasionally shown as self-doubting bunglers.
"It is not the script's political stance that harms Israel's reputation, but the shoddy way in which the vanguard of the 'Zionist superspies' is depicted," the Maariv daily said.
"What is surprising is Munich's failure as an action film."
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