Munich is a
2005 historical fiction film about the Israeli
government's secret retaliation after the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September terrorists.
The film stars Eric Bana
co-produced and directed by Steven
. It was written by Tony
and Eric Roth
shows how a squad of assassins, led by former Mossad agent Avner (Eric
Bana), track down and murder a list of Black September members
thought to be responsible for the eleven Israeli athletes'
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards
including Best Picture.
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
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's book was first
turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1986 called Sword of Gideon
, starring Steven Bauer
and Michael York
and directed by Michael Anderson
was shot in various places around Malta (which
stands in for Tel
Aviv, Beirut, Cyprus, Athens, and
Rome), in Budapest (standing in for London, Rome, and
for the German airport of
Fürstenfeldbruck), Paris, and
The North American theatrical rentals were tepid, earning
US$47,403,685, about two thirds of the film's $75 million cost
(estimated). However, the film did do well internationally,
grossing $130,346,986 total.
begins with a depiction of the events of the Munich
1972. After the killings, the Israeli government
devises "an eye for an eye"
A target list of eleven names is drawn up in
retaliation for the eleven Israeli men murdered.
Avner Kaufman, an Israeli-born
agent of German
, is chosen to lead the assassination
squad because he is not
well-known in the field and he knows his way around Europe
. To give the Israeli government plausible deniability
officially resigns from Mossad, and the squad operates with no
official ties to Mossad or the Government of Israel. Avner is given a team
of four men: Steve (Daniel Craig), a
South African driver; Hans (Hanns Zischler), a document forger from
Frankfurt; Robert (Mathieu
Kassovitz), a Belgian toy-maker
trained in defusing explosives; and Carl (Ciarán Hinds), a former Israeli soldier
who "cleans up" after the assassinations.
Since the Mossad
is "not connected" to the mission, Avner and his team set about
tracking down the eleven targets with the help of an informant,
Louis (Amalric), who is introduced to Avner by an old friend.
go to Rome to track
down and shoot their first target, Abdel Wael Zwaiter, who is broke and
living as a poet in Italy where he has translated One Thousand and One Nights
The group follows him, from a speech he gave
to a small audience, to his apartment building. After confirming
the poet is indeed Abdel Wael Zwaiter (by asking him), two members
of the nervous squad (Avner & Robert) make their first
Robert pretends to be a journalist interviewing their second
target, Mahmoud Hamshari
, about the
Munich attack. He plants a bomb in the phone that is set to be
detonated by a remote key. The phone number of Hamshari is to be
dialed by Carl from a public telephone booth. However, Hamshari's
daughter, who is supposed to have left for the day, returns to the
flat. The men are not able to see her go back into the building
because of a truck that blocks their view. When Carl calls the
telephone from a phone booth and hears the little girl's voice, he
and Avner race to stop Robert from detonating the bomb. After the
little girl leaves the building, Carl calls the number, asks the
man who answers if he's Mahmoud Hamshari and upon affirmation of
same, Robert detonates the bomb. Hamshari is hospitalized and later
dies from his wounds.
travel to Cyprus to kill the
next target, Hussein Al Bashir ,
by planting a bomb under his bed in his hotel room.
gets a room next to Abd Al Chir in the hotel. Avner and Abd Al Chir
are both on the balcony and converse for a short while. When Avner
has seen him actually on the bed, he shuts off his night-stand lamp
(the agreed signal of the group) and Robert detonates the bomb.
However, the explosives are too powerful, almost killing Avner in
the room next door as well as injuring a pair of young honeymooners
in the opposite room from Al Chir. This causes the team to doubt
Louis, who provided the explosives.
gives the group information on three Palestinians in Beirut.
These three are among the top brass of the PLO, Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar
Youssef), (involved in planning of Black September), Kamal Adwan
, a Fatah veteran, and Kamal Nasser
, PLO spokesman. Ephraim, the
, per previous
instructions that they are not to operate in Arab or Warsaw pact
countries, refuses to let them
handle the mission themselves. Avner insists that he will lose
Louis's trust if the operation is carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces
relents, allowing the team to accompany the IDF commandos. In
Beirut, Steve, Robert and Avner meet up with a group of Sayeret Matkal
IDF soldiers (including future
Prime Minister Ehud Barak
penetrate the Palestinian leaders' guarded compound, killing all three leaders
well with other militia.
heads to Athens where Louis
has provided a dingy apartment that they will use as a safe house.
During the night, four
have rented the same apartment as a safe house, enter the dwelling.
After a tense confrontation with guns drawn, Robert defuses the
situation by claiming that his squad are fellow militant
revolutionaries, members of ETA
Avner discusses Middle Eastern
politics with the group's leader, Ali. Ali speaks passionately
about his quest for homeland, while Avner debates him, arguing that
violence would only make the world regard Arabs as brutes, and that
there are other Arab countries the Palestinians could go to. Ali
disagrees, citing the examples of the Irish and the Jews
themselves, and concludes that a home is more important than
Avner's group carry out their next assassination, that of Zaiad Muchasi
, the replacement for Hussein Al
Bashir in Cyprus. They install a remote-controlled bomb made of
three World War II
-era phosphorus grenades
television set, after bribing the doorman (who thinks they are
simple thieves, and is happy to let them in for a share of the
bounty). However, the bomb malfunctions and does not detonate. In
desperation, Hans walks into the hotel, forces his way into
Muchasi's room and throws a grenade
sets off the bomb, killing Muchasi. The squad exchanges gunfire
with Muchasi's KGB bodyguards and the PLO operatives, and Ali is
killed by Carl.
Louis provides the squad with information on Ali Hassan Salameh
, the organizer of the
Munich Massacre and the squad's prime target. Avner learns from
Louis that the CIA
a deal with Salameh wherein they protect and fund him in exchange
for his promise not to attack US diplomats. The squad moves to
London to track
down Salameh, but they are not able to accomplish the assassination
when Avner is suddenly approached by several drunken
Later the group wonder if said Americans were
actually CIA agents.
Avner is propositioned by a woman in the hotel bar but declines.
Afterward, Carl goes into the bar and is later killed by the same
woman, who turns out to be an independent Dutch contract
The movie then proceeds on more dark and sombre lines. The squad is
feeling the pressure of the assassinations. Robert (the explosives
expert), questions the morality of the entire mission and cannot
bring himself to continue without compromising his soul. Avner
listens to him patiently and asks him to take a break.
remaining squad track the Dutch assassin to Hoorn in Holland
to avenge Carl's death.
Later, Avner, Steve and Hans discuss
the futility of the entire mission. Sometime later, Hans is found
stabbed to death and left on a park bench (reasons not explained)
while Robert is killed in an explosion in his workshop (possibly
Steve finally locate Salameh in a gated residence in Spain, however,
their assassination attempt is thwarted by Salameh's guards.
Frightened, Avner shoots a guard who turns out to be a teenager.
The guards immediately return fire and the two men run for their
At the end, Avner is dispirited and disillusioned. He flies first to
Israel and then later to his new home in Brooklyn, New York to reunite with his wife and their
Avner becomes psychologically tormented with paranoid
fears about his family's safety, horrifying flashbacks of the
Munich Massacre, and pangs of conscience about the morality of his
killings and the value of his mission. In a fit of rage and
paranoia, he storms into the Israeli consulate and screams at an
employee whom he believes to be a Mossad agent to leave him and his
Avner's handler, Ephraim, comes to the United States to urge Avner
to rejoin Mossad, but Avner rejects the offer. In the movie's final
scene, in a playground in Gantry Plaza State Park across the East River from the United Nations headquarters building, Avner asks Ephraim to dinner, in an offer
of Jewish hospitality.
Ephraim pauses, declines and leaves.
turns to leave as well, and the camera pans to a shot of the New
York City skyline, including the World Trade Center.
A postscript states that nine of the eleven men originally targeted
by Mossad were assassinated. It adds that Salameh was eventually
killed in 1979.
The film garnered a 77% favorable rating from critics (per Rotten Tomatoes
), though its "cream of the
crop" rating was lower at 59%. Roger
praised the film, saying that "With this film (Spielberg)
has dramatically opened a wider dialogue, helping to make the
inarguable into the debatable." and placed it at #3 on his top ten
list of 2005. James Berardinelli
wrote that "Munich is an eye-opener - a motion picture that asks
difficult questions, presents well-developed characters, and keeps
us white-knuckled throughout." He named it the best film of the
year; 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.
movie critic Owen Gleiberman said
was the #1 film of 2005. Rex Reed from
New York Observer
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."
magazine reviewer Todd McCarthy called
a "beautifully made" film. 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.
reviewer Allison Benedikt calls
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
Another critique is Gabriel Schoenfeld's "Spielberg's 'Munich'" in
the February 2006 issue of conservative Commentary
. He compared the
fictional film to history, asserted that Spielberg and especially
Kushner felt that the Palestinian terrorists and the Mossad agents
are morally equivalent and concluded: "The movie deserves an Oscar
in one category only: most pernicious
film of the year."
Writing in Empire
Nathan wrote that "Munich
is Steven Spielberg’s most
difficult film. It arrives already inflamed by controversy... This
is Spielberg operating at his peak — an exceptionally made,
provocative and vital film for our times."
Stephen Howe in his openDemocracy review points out: "Also
obviously intended to shock, and to prompt reflection, is a
penultimate scene where shots of Avner making love are intercut
with the climactic slaughter at Munich. It's another weary cliché:
rough sex and violent death yoked together in some unthought-about,
sub-Freudian way. And if, as one supposes, the Munich scenes are
supposed to be running through Avner's head, we're offered no
reason why he should be so haunted. He wasn't there. Those scenes
weren't even on TV. Why not any of the equally vicious incidents
he's witnessed, or perpetrated, himself?"
The film received five Academy Award
nominations, including the Best Picture, but did not win any
Some reviewers have criticized Munich
for what they call
the film's equating the Israeli assassins with "terrorists
wrote in The New
, "... Worse, 'Munich' prefers a discussion of
counter-terrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that
they are the same discussion".
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 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
(ZOA), describing itself as "the oldest, and one of
the largest, pro-Israel and Zionist organizations in the United
States", called for a boycott
of the film on
December 27, 2005. The ZOA criticized the factual basis of the
film, and leveled criticism at one of the screenwriters, Tony Kushner
, who the ZOA has described as an
"Israel-hater". Criticism was also directed at the Anti-Defamation League
National Director, Abraham Foxman
his support of the film. By contrast, some critics have claimed a
pro-Israeli bias in the movie, including not fully presenting the
harm caused by Israel's efforts at retaliation.
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
does say and what I find irrefutable is that this
shortsighted tit-for-tat can produce a kind of insanity, both
individual and collective."
is a work of fiction, it describes many
actual events and figures from the early 1970s. On the Israeli
side, Prime Minister Golda Meir
depicted in the film, and other military and political leaders such
as Attorney General Meir Shamgar
Mossad chief Zvi Zamir
and Aman chief
are also depicted. The
filmmaker has also tried to make the depiction of the
hostage-taking and killing of the Israeli athletes historically
authentic. 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
, and their deaths, are also mostly factual. Abdel Wael Zwaiter
, a translator at the
Libyan embassy in Rome, was shot 11 times, one bullet for each of
the victims of the Munich Massacre, 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, though the film depicts the bomb being concealed in the
telephone itself, other details of the assassination (such as
confirmation of the target via telephone call) are accurate. Others
killed during this period include Mohammed Boudia
, Basil al-Kubasi
, Abad al-Chir
, some of whose deaths are depicted in the film.
Ali Hassan Salameh
was also a
real person, and a prominent member of Black September.
killed by car bomb in Beirut in
The commando raid in Beirut, known as Operation Spring of Youth
occurred. This attack included future Israeli Prime Minister
and Yom Kippur War
and Operation Entebbe
hero Yonatan Netanyahu
, who are both portrayed
by name in the film. The methods used to track down and assassinate
the Black September members were 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 an informant as depicted in the film .
Awards and nominations
- Best Hungarian Extra (Janos Szuhár)
- Munich (2005) - Filming locations
- In particular see a discussion of the film by Lebanese scholar
AbuKhalil | angryarab.blogspot.com
- Note: Israeli actor Gur Weinberg, one month old in September
1972 was used to portray his father Moshe, the wrestling coach and first
- Harari Evidence
- Richard Girling "A Thirst for Vengeance: The Real Story behind
Munich". The Sunday
Times. January 15, 2006
- "Spielberg takes on terror", Time
Magazine, 12 December 2005.
- "The Lessons of Munich", A discussion of the film from
Foreign Policy Magazine
- "Spielberg's Munich Pact" , Editorial critical
of the movie from "Frontpage.com" (conservative website).
- Review by The Spectator, January 14 2006
- PopMatters review (12/2005)
- A delicate balance: Showing both sides of the '72
Olympic massacre is Spielberg's big challenge -
- "Munich" not what conservatives say, a positive review
of the film from Israeli commentator Alan D. Abbey on
- "Movie-2-DVD Special: Spielberg's Munich", Historical
background and location info.
- The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Massacre –
Includes an extensive overview of the Munich Massacre and the
aftermath, including an in-depth analysis of the Mossad
"counter-terrorist" operations described in George Jonas' book
Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist
Team, the primary source for the events portrayed in the
- NPR's Fresh Air interview, Pulitzer
prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner co-wrote the screenplay for
the new Stephen Spielberg film Munich.
- NPR's All Things Considered interview,
'Striking Back' Look at Munich Killings, Aftermath
- The Hunt For Black September, an article from
ICG Magazine about the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and his
contribution to the movie.
- Munich, Mentoring & Moviolas an interview
with Michael Kahn, film editor in "Munich".
- Photographing "Munich" by Karen Ballard, on-set
photographer for "Munich"
- IMDB link to Oscar winning documentary "One Day in
September" on the Munich massacre