Munich

Director: Stephen Spielberg
With: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

Runtime: 160 min

In 1972, in the midst of the so called ‘Serene’ Olympics in Munich, a tragedy occurred. 8 Palestinian terrorists, going by the name of ‘Black September’, scaled the walls of the Olympic village and took 11 Israeli athletes hostage, eventually butchering them before being killed in a shoot-out with the German police. The attack struck right at the heart of Israeli society and caused a tidal wave of rage. Munich tells of the Israeli government’s channelling of this rage into the creation of a revenge squad tasked with the assassination of 11 Palestinians linked to the planning and carrying-out of the Olympic attack.

This squad, officially unconnected to and unsanctioned by the Israeli secret service, is led by one of its young officers, Avner (Bana). A young man very much in love with his wife and a soon to be father, his iron sense of duty still cannot allow him to refuse this service to his people. He is joined by a group of similarly motivated specialists (Robert, the bomb specialist, Carl, the ‘cleaner’, Hans, the forger, and Steve, the slightly overzealous driver). Together they set off on their quest for vengeance with a feeling of righteous fury, but in the course of the operation they sink further and further into the immoral mire of the contract killer.

The above synopsis might suggest to you that this film is a political statement; Spielberg’s Schindlers List for the 21st century, but you’d be wrong. Although Munich is about politics, it is not political and is very careful to remain impartial. The Israelis are the protagonists but they are by no means squeaky clean and they cheerfully engage Avner to do their dirty work before treating him as something below their notice. In a similar vein, the Palestinian targets, though guilty of planning an atrocity, are portrayed as outwardly sympathetic men.

What this film is about is the subject of terrorism in general. Every target that the group kills is succeeded by an even more hard-line and dangerous replacement; and while the group starts out with a ‘no collateral damage’ policy, they soon expand their mission into killing these replacements and even individuals only loosely associated with them. The driving force behind this film is not the issues involved but the characters. Avner is mesmerizing: a man of honour whose rigid moral code is slowly warped by the terrible deeds he must commit; and it is by him that we are taken through the story.

As you might expect from Spielberg, Munich is fantastically shot with loving care and an attention to detail. The screenplay is engaging and the performances are generally excellent. However, all these factors cannot save Munich from its one flaw; it is almost three hours long. While this is a weighty subject, one cannot help but think that Spielberg has indulged himself with a couple of unnecessary sideplots. Excellent, but perhaps in need of a shorter director’s cut.

Reviewed by
Tom King

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