Munich (film)

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The first poster for Munich
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Steven Spielberg
Barry Mendel
Colin Wilson
Written by Tony Kushner
Eric Roth
Starring Eric Bana
Daniel Craig
Ciarán Hinds
Mathieu Kassovitz
Hanns Zischler
Geoffrey Rush
Ayelet Zurer
Michael Lonsdale
Gila Almagor
Moritz Bleibtreu
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Janusz Kaminski
Editing by Michael Kahn
Distributed by USA Theatrical & Worldwide DVD/Video (except Japan)
Universal Pictures
Non-USA Theatrical
DreamWorks SKG through
United International Pictures
Release date(s) December 23, 2005
Running time 163 minutes
Language English
Budget $75,000,000 (estimated)
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

Munich is a 2005 drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth which depicts the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September gunmen, and the Israeli government's secret retaliation assassinations. The film shows how a squad of assassins, led by former Mossad agent "Avner" (Eric Bana) tracks down and kills a list of Black September members thought to be responsible for the 11 Israeli athletes' murders (see Background and planning of Operation Wrath of God). The film was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The first part of the film, which depicts the hostage taking, corresponds well with historical accounts. The second part of the movie, which depicts the Israeli government's response, has been debated a great deal by film critics and newspaper columnists. Spielberg refers to the film's second part as "historical fiction", saying it is inspired by the actual Israeli operations which are now known as Operation Wrath of God.


[edit] Overview

The film is based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by Canadian journalist George Jonas, which in turn was based on the story of Yuval Aviv, who claims to have been a Mossad agent. In the book, Aviv's story is told through a protagonist called "Avner". Jonas' book was first turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1986 called Sword of Gideon, starring Steve Bauer and Michael York and directed by Michael Anderson [1] [2].

The film was shot in various places around Malta[1] (which stands in for Tel Aviv, Beirut, Cyprus, Athens, and Rome), in Budapest (standing in for London [2], Rome[3], and for the German airport of Fürstenfeldbruck[4]), Paris, and New York [3]).

The film failed to break even in the United States, earning only $47,403,685, about two thirds of the film's $75 million cost (estimated). However, the film did do relatively well internationally, grossing $130,346,986. [4]

[edit] Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The film begins with a depiction of the events of the Munich Massacre in 1972, followed by a recreation of the news coverage interspersed with snippets of real footage. After the killings, the Israeli government plans a secret assassination operation that will target Black September leaders who planned the Munich Massacre terror attack. A low-ranking Israeli-born Mossad agent of German descent named Avner Kaufman is chosen to lead the assassination squad. To give the Israeli government plausible deniability about their role in the assassinations, Avner officially resigns from Mossad, and the assassination squad operates with no official ties to Mossad or the Government of Israel. They receive instructions and funds in a Swiss bank's safe deposit boxes and they have few meetings with their Mossad handler, Ephraim.

This Valletta square appears in the film as a Roman piazza.
This Valletta square appears in the film as a Roman piazza.

The team consists of Steve, a South African driver; Hans, a document forger; Robert, a Belgian toy-maker trained in explosives; and Carl, who "cleans up" after the assassinations. To track down the eleven Black September terrorists, Avner makes large cash payments to a shadowy French informant and information entrepreneur named Louis. The group travels to Rome to track down and shoot their first target, one of the Black September planners who works as a translator and as a poet. Next, the group heads to Paris, where they plant a bomb that severely injures a Palestinian Fatah recruiter, who later dies from his wounds. After Louis gives the group information on three Palestinians in Beirut, Kamal Adwan, Kamal Naser, and Abu Yusef Najjar, Ephraim at first refuses to allow them to go to an Arab country. However, he relents on the condition that the group be accompanied by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commandos. In Beirut, Steve, Robert and Avner meet up with a group of Sayeret Matkal IDF soldiers (including future Prime Minister Ehud Barak), and they penetrate the Palestinian leaders' guarded compound, killing all three leaders. During the ensuing gun battle, a number of innocent bystanders and neighbours are hit in the crossfire.

The film's depiction of the Mossad team assembled to revenge the killing of 11 Israeli atheletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The film's depiction of the Mossad team assembled to revenge the killing of 11 Israeli atheletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Next, the team heads to Athens, where Louis has found them a dingy apartment that they will use as a safehouse. During the night, three PLO members who have also rented the apartment as a safehouse enter the apartment. After a tense confrontation with guns drawn, Avner defuses the situation by claiming that the Mossad squad are fellow militant revolutionaries. Avner talks about Middle Eastern politics with the group's leader, Ali, and Ali speaks passionately about Gaza and the West Bank, which he calls his homeland. Avner's group carry out their next assassination. After an explosion of phosphor grenades kills the KGB contact, the squad exchanges gunfire with the Palestinians during their escape, and Ali is killed.

Louis finally provides the squad with information on Salameh, the organizer of the Munich Massacre and the squad's prime target. Avner learns that the CIA may have ties to Salameh. The squad moves to London to track down Salameh, but they are not able to accomplish the assassination, which may be due to the CIA's intervention. Avner is becoming increasingly paranoid, because the Mossad squad themselves are being hunted by assassins. Carl is killed by a Dutch female assassin, and the squad heads to Hoorn to avenge Carl's death. Later, Hans is stabbed to death and Robert is killed by a bomb in his workshop. When the remaining two assassins finally locate Salameh in a gated residence in Spain, their assassination attempt is thwarted by Salameh's guards, one in particular, who may have been one of the innocent bystanders Avner spared during the attack in Beirut.

Avner is dispirited and disillusioned, and he flies back to Israel and then later to his new home in Brooklyn. He becomes psychologically tormented with paranoid fears about his family's safety, flashbacks of the Munich Massacre, and pangs of conscience about morality of his killings and the value of his mission. His handler, Ephraim, comes to the United States to urge Avner to rejoin the Mossad, but Avner rejects the offer. In the movie's final scene, in a playground across the East River from the United Nations headquarters building, the two men part company, and the camera pans to a shot of the New York City skyline, including the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The movie's postscript explains the Israeli government's revenge missions and the outcome.

Spoilers end here.

[edit] Critical reaction

Eric Bana in Munich
Eric Bana in Munich

The film garnered a 76% favorable rating from critics (per Rotten Tomatoes), though its "cream of the crop" rating was lower at 59%. It received a high 7.8 out of 10 from internet visitors to the IMDb. Roger Ebert praised the film [5] and placed it at #3 on his top ten list of 2005. James Berardinelli gave the film a good review [6]; it was the only movie in 2005 which he gave four stars, and he also put it on his Top 100 Films of All Time list. Entertainment Weekly movie critic Owen Gleiberman said that Munich was the #1 film of 2005. Rex Reed from New York Observer belongs to the group of critics who didn't like the movie: "With no heart, no ideology and not much intellectual debate, Munich is a big disappointment, and something of a bore." [7]

Variety magazine reviewer Todd McCarthy called Munich a "beautifully made" film. However, he criticized the film for failing to include "compelling" characters, and for its use of laborious plotting and a "flabby script." McCarthy says that the film turns into "...a lumpy and overlong morality play on a failed thriller template." To succeed, McCarthy states that Spielberg would have needed to implicate the viewer in the assassin squad leader's growing crisis of conscience and create a more "sustain(ed) intellectual interest" for the viewer.[5]

Chicago Tribune reviewer Allison Benedikt calls Munich a “competent thriller”, but laments that as an “ intellectual pursuit, it is little more than a pretty prism through which superficial Jewish guilt and generalized Palestinian nationalism” are made to “... look like the product of serious soul-searching.” Benedikt states that Spielberg’s treatment of the film’s “dense and complicated” subject matter can be summed up as “Palestinians want a homeland, Israelis have to protect theirs.” She rhetorically asks “Do we need another handsome, well-assembled, entertaining movie to prove that we all bleed red?”[6]

[edit] Awards and nominations

Steven Spielberg received a Best Director Golden Globe nomination, as well as a DGA nomination for Best Director. On January 31, 2006, the film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Film Editing, Original Music Score (by John Williams), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director.

[edit] Music

[edit] Controversies

Yuval Aviv was the source of the book by George Jonas, on which Spielberg's film is based
Yuval Aviv was the source of the book by George Jonas, on which Spielberg's film is based

Some reviewers have criticized Spielberg for what they call his equating the Israeli assassins with the Palestinian terrorists.[7] Leon Wieseltier wrote in The New Republic, "... Worse, ‘Munich’ prefers a discussion of counter-terrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that they are the same discussion".[8] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Melman and other critics of the book and the film have said that the story's premise — that Israeli agents had second thoughts about their work — is not supported by interviews or public statements. A retired head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service, Avi Dichter, currently (2006-2007) the Internal Security Minister, likened Munich to a children's adventure story. "There is no comparison between what you see in the movie and how it works in reality", he said in an interview with Reuters. In a Time Magazine cover story about the film on December 4, 2005, Spielberg said that the source of the film had second thoughts about his actions. "There is something about killing people at close range that is excruciating," Spielberg said. "It's bound to try a man's soul". Of the real Avner, Spielberg says, "I don’t think he will ever find peace".

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), describing itself as "the oldest, and one of the largest, pro-Israel/Zionist organizations in the United States", called for a boycott of the film on December 27. The ZOA criticised the factual basis of the film, and levelled criticism at one of the screenwriters, Tony Kushner, who the ZOA has described as an "Israel-hater".[12] Criticism was also directed at the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) National Director, Abraham Foxman for his support of the film.[13] Some critics have claimed an Israeli bias in the movie, as many others complain of Palestinian bias. The review of the film on BBC World News accused the movie of being too impartial, being too balanced and refusing to take a side to the point where it had no clear message.

The film has had several defenders. Pulitzer Prize winning American film critic Roger Ebert defended the film in his review by stating that "by not taking any sides, Spielberg has taken both sides." Several of the film's defenders state that the film was never meant to offer truth but merely raise debate on the issues touched upon in the film and to also draw attention to today's events. Indeed, James Berardinelli, who named the film the best of 2005 stated that "Spielberg asks, but cannot answer, a key question: Is a war against terrorism winnable? We would like to think the answer is 'yes'. It would help us sleep better at night. But Munich points out a sobering truth: for every terrorist killed, there is another - possibly a worse one - waiting to take his place." [14]

David Edelstein of Slate argued that "The Israeli government and many conservative and pro-Israeli commentators have lambasted the film for naiveté, for implying that governments should never retaliate. But an expression of uncertainty and disgust is not the same as one of outright denunciation. What Munich does say — and what I find irrefutable — is that this shortsighted tit-for-tat can produce a kind of insanity, both individual and collective." [15] A documentary prepared by Channel 4 that was aired in the UK around the time the film was released investigated evidence that the killings by the Mossad and the Israeli assassins were evidently not all related to the Munich attack and that the killings expanded to include a much wider audience than the Black September or Munich culprits.

[edit] Historical Authenticity

Although Munich is a work of fiction, it depicts many actual events and figures from the early 1970s. On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Golda Meir is depicted in the film, and other military and political leaders such as Attorney General Meir Shamgar and Mossad chief Zvi Zamir are also depicted. The filmmaker has also tried to make the depiction of the hostage-taking and killing of the Israeli athletes historically authentic [9] Unlike the earlier film, 21 Hours at Munich, Spielberg's film depicts the shooting of all the Israeli athletes, which according to the autopsies was accurate. In addition, the film uses actual news clips shot during the hostage situation.

The named members of Black September, and their deaths, are also mostly factual. Abdel Wael Zwaiter, a translator at the Libyan embassy in Rome, was shot 12 times in the lobby of his apartment 41 days after Munich. On December 8 of that year Mahmoud Hamshiri, a senior PLO figure, was killed in Paris by a bomb concealed in the table below his telephone. Others killed during this period include Mohammed Boudia, Basil al-Kubasi, Abad al-Chir, Zaid Muchassi, some of whose deaths are depicted in the film. Ali Hassan Salameh was also a real person, and a prominent member of Black September. He was killed by car bomb in Beirut in 1979 [16].

The commando raid in Beirut, known as Operation Spring of Youth, also occurred. Some sources argue that two of the three targets killed were not related to the Munich Massacre. This attack included future Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is portrayed by name in the film. The film does not mention the case of Ahmed Bouchiki, an innocent man mistakenly killed by the Israelis in Norway when an informant claimed that he was Salameh, in what is known as the Lillehammer affair. The methods used to track down and assassinate the Black September members much more complicated than the methods portrayed in the film. For example, the tracking of the Black September cell members was achieved by a network of Mossad agents, not by a shadowy informant, as depicted in the film. Other departures from fact abound in the film's portrayal of the events surrounding "Operation Wrath of God".

[edit] Cast

Actor Role
Eric Bana Avner Kaufman
Daniel Craig Steve
Ciarán Hinds Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz Robert
Hanns Zischler Hans
Geoffrey Rush Ephraim
Michael Lonsdale Papa
Ayelet Zurer Daphna (Avner's Wife)
Marie-Josée Croze (Dutch killer) Jeanette
Yvan Attal Tony
Mathieu Amalric Louis
Gila Almagor Avner's Mother
Lynn Cohen Golda Meir
Moritz Bleibtreu Andreas

[edit] Awards

[edit] Won

  • Central Ohio Film Critics: Best Ensemble
  • Kansas City Films Critics: Best Picture, Best Direction in a Motion Picture
  • Washington D.C. Films Critics: Best Picture, Best Direction in a Motion Picture

[edit] Nominations

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Malta Connection. An Encyclopedia of Film and Cinema. Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  2. ^ From the Mailbag (I): Apologize to Steven Spielberg, or Else!. All Hungary Media Group (2005-09-02). Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  3. ^ The Pictures Steven Spielberg Doesn't Want You to See. All Hungary Media Group (2005-08-12). Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  4. ^ Mid-Day Reality Check: Spielberg Helicopter in Death Fireball!. All Hungary Media Group (2005-09-14). Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  5. ^
  6. ^,0,1683492.story
  7. ^ Ain, Stewart (2005-12-16). ‘Munich’ Refuels Debate Over Moral Equivalency. The Jewish Week. Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  8. ^ Wieseltier, Leon (December 19, 2005). "Hits". The New Republic 233 (4,744): 38. 
  9. ^ Note: Israeli actor Gur Weinberg, one month old in September 1972 was used to portray his father Moshe, the wrestling coach and first hostage killed.
  • Richard Girling "A Thirst for Vengeance: The Real Story behind Munich". The Sunday Times. January 15, 2006

[edit] External links

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