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Munich (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Another very long Spielberg epic, this time dealing with the controversial “Wrath of God” hit squads allegedly sent out by Golda Meir’s Israeli government to wreak vengeance against the Black September terrorists who were responsible for the deaths of nine Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. At the outset there is a graphic that it is “based on actual events” which generally means that it’s mostly fiction.


Avner (Eric Bana) is the fledgling assassin whose psyche and life are turned upside down by his assignment, that requires him to leave his pregnant wife. Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) is a devious, Machiavellian Mossad officer with apparently mixed motives who controls Avner, even though he has told Avner that he does not work for him, the Mossad, or the Israeli government, and that he has “ceased to exist.”

Spielberg uses a not too subtle metaphor to slam the French. Avner’s contact is a Frenchman who provides him with the names and locations of the people to be hit. He and his father (Michael Lonsdale, who appeared in one of the best of the assassination genre, “The Day of the Jackal,” 1973) are reprehensible, greedy men without integrity or values who work both sides of the fence in return for money.

The executions themselves generally take place off camera, except for one, the execution of the beautiful assassin, who tries to lure Avner to a sex-induced execution but ends up with one of his accomplices. We graphically see her shot with the bullets going into her chest and the blood coming out. I’m not sure why Spielberg wanted us to see this grisly execution, unless it was to flash some beautiful bare breasts at the audience.


Spielberg gropes to find justice for the terrorists’ actions and manipulates the characters he creates to fit in with his point of view. At the 90 minute mark, there is a dialogue between Ariel and a Palestinian terrorist, Ali (Omar Metwally), in which Ali finally says, sympathetically, “Home is everything.” Ali is treated so commiseratively that when Avner sees that he is killed, he is obviously saddened.


Although told from Avner’s point of view, Spielberg examines the morality of governmental revenge for terrorist activities and seems to come down squarely in the middle, even to the extent of implying moral equivalency. Spielberg questions who the victims were and what they had done to merit death without trial. Unlike other assassination films, such as “Jackal,” the failure to include details of involvement in tracking down the terrorists diminishes the entertainment value.


 Despite this, the film holds interest throughout. Even so, don’t take this film as a factual history of what actually happened. What would be even more dismaying is if a viewer made a moral judgment on the issue based on Spielberg’s manipulation.

December 21, 2005