The first poster for Munich
|Directed by||Steven Spielberg|
|Produced by||Kathleen Kennedy
|Music by||John Williams|
|Editing by||Michael Kahn|
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
|Distributed by||Universal Studios
|Release date(s)||December 23, 2005|
|Running time||163 minutes|
|Language||English, Hebrew, German, Italian, French|
Munich is a 2005 historical fiction film about the Israeli government's secret retaliation attacks after the massacre of Israeli athletes by Black September militant group during the 1972 Summer Olympics. 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 Israeli athletes' murders. 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 received positive reviews and was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner & Eric Roth), Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn) and Best Original Score (Composed by John Williams).
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'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 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 New York.
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 September, 1972. After the killings, the Israeli 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 (Eric Bana), 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 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.
The group 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 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 Cyprus to kill the next target, Hussein Al Bashir (Hussein Abd Al Chir), 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 Beirut. 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 Athens 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 London 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 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 self-engineered).
Avner and 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 lives.
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 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 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. Avner turns to leave as well, and the camera pans to a shot of the New York City skyline, including the World Trade Center.
The film ends with a postscript noting that nine of the 11 men originally targeted by Mossad were assassinated. 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 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.
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."
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. Spielberg tried to make the depiction of the hostage-taking and killing of the Israeli athletes historically authentic. Unlike an 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 Beirut 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.
Atlantic Productions, producers of BAFTA-nominated documentary Munich: Mossad's Revenge, listed several discrepancies between Spielberg's film and the information it obtained from interviews with Mossad agents involved in the operation. It noted that the film suggests one group carried out almost all the assasinations, whereas in reality it was a much larger team. Mossad did not work with a mysterious French underworld figure as portrayed in the book and the film. The assasination campaign did not end because agents lost their nerve but because of the Lillehammer affair in which an innocent Moroccan waiter was killed. This is not mentioned in the film. The targets were not all directly involved in Munich, which Spielberg only acknowledges in the last 5 minutes. 
|Eric Bana||Avner Kaufman based on Yuval Aviv|
|Ayelet Zurer||Daphna Kaufman|
|Gila Almagor||Avner's Mother|
|Valeria Bruni Tedeschi||Sylvie|
|Marie-Josée Croze||Jeanette (the Dutch Assassin)|
|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|
Papa: The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong but time and chance happens to them all. Evil falls suddenly, who can say when it falls?
Robert: We're Jews Avner, Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong.
Avner: We can't afford to be that decent anymore.
Robert: I don't know if we ever were that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn't make you decent. But we're supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. That's Jewish. That's what I knew, that's what I was taught and I'm losing it. I lose that and that's everything. That's my soul.
Ephraim: We deposit money from a fund that doesn't exist into a box we don't know about in a bank we've never set foot in. We can't help you because we never heard of you before.
Golda Meir: Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.
[last lines] Avner: Break bread with me. Come on, you're a Jew in a foreign land. It's written somewhere I should invite you to break bread with me. Break bread with me, Ephraim.
Carl: It's strange, to think of oneself as an assassin.
Avner: Think of yourself as something else then.
Papa: Let me see your hands. [he grabs Avner's hands and compares them to his own]
Papa: Too big for a good cook. That was my problem too! I had been a master, but I have thick, stupid butcher's hands just like yours. Oh, we are tragic men. Butcher's hands, gentle souls.
Steve: Don't fuck with the Jews.
Daphna: We should stay at home.
Avner: You are the only home I ever had.
Daphna: [Laughs] This is so corny
Avner: What? That took a lot for me to say!
Daphna: I bet. Why did I have to marry a sentimentalist? You're ruining my life.
Avner: [to their newborn baby] Your mother's teasing me.
Carl: [to Avner] I knew guys like you in the army. You do any terrifying thing you're asked to do, but you have to do it running. You think you can outrun your fears, your doubts. The only thing that really scares you guys is stillness.
Steve: You know how to shoot, to assassinate people, right? I mean,[to Robert] you make dolls in a toyshop, and you...[to Hans] you shop for sofas? And you- I don't know what you do.
Carl: Me? I worry.
Steve: [to Avner] So why did they make you team leader?
Hans: Because he really knows how to cook a brisket.
Avner: [starts laughing]
Mossad Accountant: In the operational funds box we will deposit 250,000 American dollars. You take it out - we put more in. I want receipts! [he slams his hand on his desk for emphasis]
Mossad Accountant: You are not working for the Baron Rothschild! You're working for Israel, a small country! I'm an old Galicianer from a mud hut in the Ukraine, and I don't trust Yekke putzes let loose in Europe with unlimited operational expenses!
Avner: I'm not a Yekke, I was born in Israel
Mossad Accountant: Where was your Grandfather born?
Mossad Accountant: You're a Yekke
Jeanette: I have to go to bed soon. I work in the morning.
Avner: What kind of work do you do?
Jeanette: [taking a long drag on her cigarette] The kind that drives you to drink.
Avner: We must have the same job then.
|Eric Bana||Avner Kaufman|
|Marie Josee Croze||Jeanette|
|Gila Almagor||Avner's Mother|
|Lynn Cohen||Golda Meir|
|Yigal Naor||Mahmoud Hamshari|