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Munich is a 2005 historical fiction film about the Israeli government's secret retaliation after the 1972 Munich massacremarker of Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September terrorists. The film stars Eric Bana and was co-produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. It was written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth.

The film 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 Israelimarker athletes' murders. 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.


The film is based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by Canadianmarker 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.

The film was shot in various places around Maltamarker (which stands in for Tel Avivmarker, Beirutmarker, Cyprusmarker, Athensmarker, and Romemarker), in Budapestmarker (standing in for Londonmarker, Rome, and for the Germanmarker airport of Fürstenfeldbruckmarker), Parismarker, and New Yorkmarker.

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.


The film begins with a depiction of the events of the Munich Massacremarker in 1972. After the killings, the Israelimarker government devises "an eye for an eye" retaliation. A target list of eleven names is drawn up in retaliation for the eleven Israeli men murdered.

Avner Kaufman, an Israeli-born Mossad agent of German descent, 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, Avner 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 Frankfurtmarker; Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a Belgianmarker 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.

The group go to Romemarker 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 into Italian. 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 kill.

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.

The team travel to Cyprusmarker to kill the next target, Hussein Al Bashir , by planting a bomb under his bed in his hotel room. Avner 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.

Louis gives the group information on three Palestinians in Beirutmarker. These three are among the top brass of the PLO, Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar (Abu Youssef), (involved in planning of Black September), Kamal Adwan, a Fatah veteran, and Kamal Nasser, PLO spokesman. Ephraim, the team's handler, 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. Ephraim 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). They penetrate the Palestinian leaders' guarded compound, killing all three leaders as well with other militia.

The team heads to Athensmarker where Louis has provided a dingy apartment that they will use as a safe house. During the night, four PLO members, who 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, RAF and ANC.

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 anything else.

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 in Muchasi's 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 that 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 have a deal with Salameh wherein they protect and fund him in exchange for his promise not to attack US diplomats. The squad moves to Londonmarker to track down Salameh, but they are not able to accomplish the assassination when Avner is suddenly approached by several drunken Americans. 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 killer.

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.

The remaining squad track the Dutch assassin to Hoornmarker 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 self-engineered).

Avner and Steve finally locate Salameh in a gated residence in Spainmarker, 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 lives.

At the end, Avner is dispirited and disillusioned. He flies first to Israel and then later to his new home in Brooklynmarker, New York to reunite with his wife and their child. 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 family alone.

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 Parkmarker across the East Rivermarker from the United Nations headquartersmarker building, Avner asks Ephraim to dinner, in an offer of Jewish hospitality. Ephraim pauses, declines and leaves. Avner turns to leave as well, and the camera pans to a shot of the New York City skyline, including the World Trade Centermarker.

A postscript states that nine of the eleven men originally targeted by Mossad were assassinated. It adds that Salameh was eventually killed in 1979.

Critical reaction

The film garnered a 77% favorable rating from critics (per Rotten Tomatoes), though its "cream of the crop" rating was lower at 59%. Roger Ebert 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. 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."

Variety magazine reviewer Todd McCarthy called Munich 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.

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?"

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, Ian 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 awards.


Some reviewers have criticized Munich for what they call the film's equating the Israeli assassins with "terrorists". 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".

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 of America (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's (ADL) National Director, Abraham Foxman for 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.

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."

Historical authenticity

Although Munich is a work of fiction, it describes 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, Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and Aman chief Aharon Yariv 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 September, 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, 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 Beirutmarker in 1979.

The commando raid in Beirut, known as Operation Spring of Youth, also occurred. This attack included future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak 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 .


Actor Role
Eric Bana Avner Kaufman based on Juval Aviv
Daniel Craig Steve
Ciarán Hinds Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz Robert
Hanns Zischler Hans
Ayelet Zurer Daphna Kaufman
Omar Metwally Ali
Geoffrey Rush Ephraim
Gila Almagor Avner's Mother
Michael Lonsdale Papa
Mathieu Amalric Louis
Moritz Bleibtreu Andreas
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi Sylvie
Meret Becker Yvonne
Marie-Josée Croze Jeanette (the Dutch Assassin)
Yvan Attal Tony
Ami Weinberg Major General Zvi Zamir
Lynn Cohen Prime Minister Golda Meir
Amos Lavi General Aharon Yariv
Moshe Ivgy Mike Harari
Michael Warshaviak Attorney General Meir Shamgar
Samuel Calderon Mossad Director Yitzhak Hofi
Makram Khoury Wael Zwaiter
Dirar Suleiman Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar
Bijan Daneshmand Kamal Nasser
Jonathan Rozen Ehud Barak
Mehdi Nebbou Ali Hassan Salameh
Karim Saleh Luttif Afif
Moa Khouas Jamal Al-Gashey
Guri Weinberg Moshe Weinberg
Sam Feuer Yossef Romano
Sabi Dorr Yossef Gutfreund
David Feldman Kehat Shorr
Ori Pfeffer Andre Spitzer
Joseph Sokolsly Amitzur Shapira
Lior Perel David Mark Berger
Ossie Beck Eliezer Halfin
Guy Amir Mark Slavin
Haguy Wigdor Ze'ev Friedman

Awards and nominations



Other nominations
    • Best Hungarian Extra (Janos Szuhár)

See also


  1. Munich (2005) - Filming locations
  4. In particular see a discussion of the film by Lebanese scholar As'ad AbuKhalil |
  5. 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.
  6. Harari Evidence

  • Richard Girling "A Thirst for Vengeance: The Real Story behind Munich". The Sunday Times. January 15, 2006

External links

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