Munich (film)

Munich (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Steven Spielberg
Barry Mendel
Colin Wilson
Screenplay by Tony Kushner
Eric Roth
Based on Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by
George Jonas
Starring Eric Bana
Daniel Craig
Ciarán Hinds
Omar Metwally
Mathieu Kassovitz
Hanns Zischler
Geoffrey Rush
Ayelet Zurer
Michael Lonsdale
Mathieu Amalric
Gila Almagor
Moritz Bleibtreu
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
Editing by Michael Kahn
Studio Amblin Entertainment
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
Alliance Atlantis
Peninsula Films
Distributed by United States:
Universal Studios
Release date(s) December 23, 2005 (2005-12-23)
Running time 163 minutes
Language English, Hebrew, German, Italian, French
Budget $77 million
Box office $130,358,911

Munich is a 2005 historical fiction film about the Israeli government's secret retaliation attacks after the massacre of Israeli athletes by the Black September terrorist group during the 1972 Summer Olympics. The film stars Eric Bana and was 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 kill a list of Black September members thought to be responsible for the eleven Israeli athletes' murders. The second part of the film, 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 and Eric Roth), Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn) and Best Original Score (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-television film in 1986 called Sword of Gideon, starring Steven Bauer and Michael York and directed by Michael Anderson.[1]

The film was shot in various places around Malta[2] (which stands in for Tel Aviv, Beirut, Cyprus, Athens, and Rome), in Budapest (standing in for London,[3] Munich, Paris, Rome,[4] and for the German airport of Fürstenfeldbruck[5]), Paris, and New York.[6]

The North American box office returns yielded earnings of US$47,403,685, about two thirds of the film's $75 million cost (estimated). However, the film did well internationally, grossing $130,346,986 total.[7]


A scene from the film representing the Mossad team from 1972. From left to right: Avner Kaufman, Robert, Carl, Hans and Steve.

The film begins with a depiction of the events of 1972 Munich Olympics. After the killings, the Israeli government devises "an eye for an eye" retaliation and a target list of 11 names is drawn up.

Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), an Israeli-born Mossad agent of German descent, is chosen to lead the assassination squad and is given the assignment over tea at the home of Prime Minister Golda Meir. To give the Israeli government plausible deniability, and at the direction of Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), his handler, Avner officially resigns from Mossad, and the squad operates with no official ties to Israel. Avner is given a team of four men: Steve (Daniel Craig), a South African driver; Hans (Hanns Zischler), a document forger; 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. Avner and his team set about tracking down the 11 targets with the help of a shadowy French informant, Louis (Mathieu Amalric).

The group goes to Rome to track down and shoot their first target, Abdel Wael Zwaiter, who is broke and living as a poet. 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), Avner & Robert make their first kill. In Paris, Robert pretends to be a journalist interviewing their second target, Mahmoud Hamshari, about Munich. 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. Carl calls the number, asks the man who answers if he's Hamshari and upon affirmation of name, Robert detonates the bomb. The team travels to Cyprus to kill the next target, Hussein Al Bashir (Hussein Abd Al Chir), by planting a bomb in his hotel room. Avner gets a room next to Al Chir. When Robert detonates the bomb the powerful explosives almost kill Avner.

Louis gives information on three Palestinians in Beirut: Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar (Abu Youssef), Kamal Adwan, and Kamal Nasser, a PLO spokesman. Ephraim 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 (IDF). 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. They penetrate the Palestinian leaders' guarded compound and kill all three leaders.

The team heads to Athens where Louis has provided a dingy apartment. 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. Avner's group carries out their next assassination, that of Zaiad Muchasi. They install a remote-controlled bomb in Muchasi's TV set. However, the bomb does not detonate. Hans walks into the hotel, forces his way and throws a grenade that sets off the bomb, killing Muchasi. The squad exchanges gunfire with Muchasi's bodyguards.

Louis provides the squad with information on Ali Hassan Salameh, the organizer of the Munich Massacre. 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. It is implied the said Americans are actually CIA agents. Avner is propositioned by a woman (Marie-Josée Croze) in the hotel but declines. Afterward, Carl is killed by the same woman, who Avner learns is an independent Dutch contract killer.

The film then proceeds on more dark and sombre lines. The squad is feeling the pressure of the assassinations. Robert questions the morality of the entire mission. Avner listens to him and asks him to take a break. The remaining squad tracks the Dutch assassin to the Netherlands and kill her; then Avner, Steve and Hans discuss the futility of the mission. Later, Hans is found stabbed to death and left on a park bench while Robert is killed in an explosion in his workshop. Avner and Steve finally locate Salameh in Spain; however, their assassination attempt is thwarted by Salameh's guards.

At the end, Avner is dispirited and disillusioned. He flies to Israel and then to his new home in New York City to reunite with his wife and their child. Avner becomes tormented with fears about his family's safety. In a fit of 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. Ephraim comes to New York to urge Avner to rejoin Mossad.

In the final scene, Avner openly questions the basis and effectiveness of the operation, and Ephraim admits that there is not evidence linking all targets to Munich. In a show of respect Avner asks Ephraim to break bread with him, but because he has refused to return to Israel, Ephraim rejects him and leaves. Avner turns and leaves as well.

During the last scene, the camera pans across the New York City skyline and stops with the Twin Towers in the center of the scene. A postscript notes that 9 of the 11 men targeted by Mossad were eventually assassinated, including Salameh in 1979.


Critical reaction

The film garnered a 78% favorable rating from critics (per Rotten Tomatoes), though its "Top Critics" rating was lower at 61%. 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." [8][9] and placed it at #3 on his top ten list of 2005.[10] 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;[11] it was the only film in 2005 which he gave four stars, and he also put it on his Top 100 Films of All Time list. Entertainment Weekly film 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 film: "With no heart, no ideology and not much intellectual debate, Munich is a big disappointment, and something of a bore."[12]

Variety magazine reviewer Todd McCarthy called Munich a "beautifully made" film. However, 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.[13]

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?"[14]

Another critique was Gabriel Schoenfeld's "Spielberg's 'Munich'" in the February 2006 issue of conservative Commentary, who called it "pernicious". 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 hypocritical film of the year."[15]

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."[16]

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?"[17]


Some reviewers have criticized Munich for what they call the film's equating the Israeli assassins with "terrorists".[18] 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".[19][20]

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.[21] 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."[22]

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.[23] 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".[24] Criticism was also directed at the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) National Director, Abraham Foxman for his support of the film.[23]

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 is that this shortsighted tit-for-tat can produce a kind of insanity, both individual and collective."[25]

By contrast, some critics have claimed a pro-Israeli bias in the film, including not fully presenting the harm caused by Israel's efforts at retaliation.[26] Illano Romano, wife of an Israeli weightlifter slain in the Munich massacre, pointed out that Spielberg overlooked the Lillehammer affair,[27] although Spielberg seems to have been conscious of the omission; the film's opening title frame shows Lillehammer in a montage of city names, with Munich standing out from the rest.

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. Spielberg tried to make the depiction of the hostage-taking and killing of the Israeli athletes historically authentic.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

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 assassinations, 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 assassination 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.[31]

As mentioned above, the film notably ignored the Lillehammer affair, where Israeli assassins murdered a Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki, mistaking him for Ali Hassan Salameh. As Bristol University History professor Stephen Howe says: "one major puzzle has gone almost unremarked. If... the key (and in itself laudable) impetus for the film's making was the moral questioning prompted by Israeli 'counter-terrorist' actions, why focus on these particular episodes? The film doesn't even include the most glaring and notorious failure, which was also perhaps the most indefensible act... This was the killing in Norway of a hapless and harmless Moroccan waiter, mistaken for alleged Black September boss Ali Hassan Salameh."[32] The agents who were responsible for the killing were tried and convicted in Norway of murder. Israel compensated the victim's family although never took responsibility for the assassination.

An article on the History News Network gives a generally negative assessment of the historical accuracy of the film.[33]

The film mentions the 1974 famine of Bangladesh as a reference of the time-line of the film's events. After the Mossad team reaches London, Steve insists Hans to eat something rather than just drinking, as Avner had prepared a table full of dishes for the team to have dinner. At this part Steve adds there is enough food to feed Bangladesh here.

Awards and nominations



See also


  1. ^ "Sword of Gideon (1986)". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  2. ^ "The Malta Connection". An Encyclopedia of Film and Cinema. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  3. ^ "From the Mailbag (I): Apologize to Steven Spielberg, or Else!". All Hungary Media Group. 2005-09-02. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  4. ^ "The Pictures Steven Spielberg Doesn't Want You to See". All Hungary Media Group. 2005-08-12. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  5. ^ "Mid-Day Reality Check: Spielberg Helicopter in Death Fireball!". All Hungary Media Group. 2005-09-14. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  6. ^ Munich (2005) – Filming locations
  7. ^ "Munich (2005)". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  8. ^ Roger Ebert (December 25, 2005). "A telephone call with Spielberg". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (2005-12-22). "Reviews: Munich". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  10. ^ Roger Ebert (December 18, 2005). "Ebert's Best 10 Movies of 2005". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  11. ^ James Berardinelli (2005). "Munich review". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  12. ^ Rex Reed (December 26, 2005). "Pierce My Heart! 007 is The Matador". The New York Observer. 
  13. ^ Todd McCarthy (December 9, 2005). "Munich Review". Variety. 
  14. ^ Allison Benedikt (August 31, 2007). "Movie review: Munich". Chicago Tribune.,0,1683492.story. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Stephen Howe (January 26, 2006). "Munich': Spielberg's failure". openDemocracy. 
  18. ^ Ain, Stewart (2005-12-16). "'Munich' Refuels Debate Over Moral Equivalency". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  19. ^ Wieseltier, Leon (December 19, 2005). "Hits". The New Republic 233 (4,744): 38. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Urquhart, Conal (December 19, 2005). "Sharon's aide helps Spielberg promote controversial film". London: The Guardian.,2763,1670523,00.html. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  22. ^ Richard Schickel (December 4, 2005). "Spielberg Takes on Terror". TIME.,9171,1137620,00.html. 
  23. ^ a b "ZOA: Don't See Spielberg's 'Munich' Unless You Like Humanizing Terrorists & Dehumanizing Israelis" (Press release). Zionist Organization of America. December 27, 2005. 
  24. ^ "Playwright Tony Kushner Supports Boycotting And Divesting From Israel – Yet Brandeis U. Is Honoring Him" (Press release). Zionist Organization of America. May 5, 2006. 
  25. ^ David Edelstein (December 22, 2005). "Death of a Hit Man". Slate. 
  26. ^ In particular see an impassioned but informed discussion of the film by Lebanese scholar As'ad AbuKhalil who has detailed knowledge of several of the individuals targeted for retaliation |
  27. ^ "Sharon aide promotes Munich film". BBC. 2005-12-09. 
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Harari Evidence
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (2006-01-26). "Munich: Mossad breaks cover". London: The Guardian. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Munich: Spielberg's Failure". Open Democracy. 2006-01-26. 
  33. ^ "How Accurate is Munich?". History News Network. 2006-02-06. 

Further reading

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

External links

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