Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Munich is not shot in black-and-white; it just feels like it."

This is the story of vengeance.

"Forget peace for now, we must show them we are strong," Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) tells her security chiefs after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, after the German police botched the kidnap negotiations and allowed the perpetrators to escape.

Copy picture

It is also the story of incompetence and betrayal in the murky world of international undercover assassination.

Steven Spielberg is in his Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List frame of mind, except this time he's less sentimental. Munich is not shot in black-and-white; it just feels like it.

Avner (Eric Bana of Hulk renown), a relatively low-ranking Mossad agent, son of a national hero, is chosen to lead the clandestine operation to kill 11 people responsible for the outrage. His team, already chosen by others, is like something from a pulp novel - the toy maker (Mathieu Kassovitz), the antique dealer (Hanns Zischler), the South African (Daniel Craig), the civil servant (Ciaran Hinds) - all of whom have specific skills. If this were a comic book adaptation, they would be X-Men, although Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) looks infinitely cooler.

At first, it feels like this will be a killing-by-numbers succession of contract bye-byes - you meet the victims, begin to like them, meet their families, like them, when BOOM! oops too strong, sorry - until things change and Avner begins to question what they are doing, whether an eye for an eye simply escalates violence and solves nothing. You could argue, although not here, that the invasion of Iraq has increased the terrorist threat world wide a hundredfold.

"All this blood comes back on us," the toy maker says. "And we are supposed to be righteous."

And it does come back. The hunters are themselves hunted. Their mandate is overruled as circumstance dictates. Other people die, who perhaps should not. Soon they mistrust their Parisian connection who provides information of future targets for large sums of money. Soon paranoia spreads like a plague of weasels.

The spymaster (Geoffrey Rush) in Tel Aviv, The Great Manipulator, recognises that this group has reached its nadir and must be disbanded, with three Palestinians still at large. Avner fears for his life and that of his wife and child in Brooklyn. Will he be safe? Will they be safe? Now that it is over?

Spielberg's theme is home, for those who died, for those who lived.

"Home is everything," the young Palestinian fighter says, before being mown down in a hail of bullets.

"You're the only home I've ever had," Avner tells his wife (Eyelet Zorer)

"You're so corny," she laughs.

In moments of trauma, Spielberg returns to the Munich debacle, where chaos and fear affects the actions of the kidnappers. Finally, and for the only time in this powerful, thought provoking film, the juxtaposition feels tacky, as the airport killings are intercut with Avner making love to his wife.

As the story unfolds, Golda Meir's statement ("We must show them we are strong"), reflected now by the Bush administration in Washington, appears tragically naive and simplistic.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2006
Share this with others on...
Munich packshot
Fictionalised reimagining of the aftermath of the Munich Olympics hostage taking and slaughter.
Amazon link

Read more Munich reviews:

The Exile *****

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner, Eric Roth, based on the book, Vengeance, by George Jonas

Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zorer, Geoffrey Rush, Lynn Cohen, Gila Almagor, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric, Marie-Josee Croze, Valerie Bruni, Yvan Attal

Year: 2005

Runtime: 164 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

One Day In September