The Oscar-nominated Munich, one of two Steven Spielberg films released in 2005, marks its 15th anniversary since the theatrical release.
After so many fun Spielberg films in the early 1990s, the latter half of the decade saw his return to serious dramas. The beginning of the 2000s is no exception. Much like 1993, Spielberg had room for sci-fi and a serious drama. Though in this case, both films also deal with the subject of terrorism. Spielberg directed both films a few years following the tragedy of September 11th. In the case of Munich, the film explores the covert operation that followed the massacre at the 1972 Olympic games.
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth’s script is based on Vengeance by George Jonas. Spielberg’s introduction notes that the book has never been discredited. It has, however, been attacked. Because the files are still classified, the filmmaker makes a number of creative liberties.
Mossad agent Avner Kaufman (Erica Bana) is selected for a covert operation to assassinate the 11 people involved with the massacre. Because Israel must have plausible deniability, Kaufman must resign from his official position within the agency. Off the books, Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) handles Avner and the team. Avner recruits four other Jews: driver Steve (Daniel Craig), explosives expert Robert Matthieu Kassovitz, “cleaner” Carl (Ciarán Hinds), and document forger Hans (Hanns Zischler). None of them look like each other and at times, they certainly don’t get along with each other. Their work starts getting noticed and once Carl is taken out by an assassin, they have a choice to make. This is more or less the changing point in the film.
Avner makes the decision to leave Israel and Mossad. This isn’t received well by the likes of Ephraim. All Avner wants is to live in peace. He does not want to be a target. Ephraim flies over in hopes of bring Avner back into the Mossad family but there isn’t any hope of reconciliation. The damage is already done.
The final scene of the film is a very real reminder of terrorism in the 21st century. It is a very painful reminder and in 2005, we were only four years removed from one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil. We see the World Trade Center’s twin towers come into focus when the camera slowly pans out after Avner and Ephraim’s conversation. This isn’t the only film of the era to end with a shot of the World Trade Center. If I recall correctly, Gangs of New York did the same thing during the New York City time lapse.
There are a number of facts in the film that are true: athletes were killed, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir decided to retaliate against Black September, and a number of those in leadership killed. The film isn’t a documentary so there’s a lot of wiggle room for creative liberties outside of what we know. But even though the film is not a documentary, Munich wisely incorporates news footage from the Olympics. While Spielberg doesn’t need to recreate the massacre, he does so anyway. The massacre gets replayed a number of times during the film–be it flashback or nightmare scenarios. Guri Weinberg stands in for his late father, Moshe Weinberg, who was killed in Munich.
“I am not attacking Israel in this film in any way, shape, or film,” Spielberg notes in the introduction. He’s not seeking to use the film as any kind of argument. The filmmaker does seek to look at empathy and what kind of role this plays. Spielberg highlights the dilemmas and issues that he feels need to be discussed rather than attempt to answer for whether or not there should be targeted killings.
I’m not going to get into the politics of the film. There certainly are a lot of comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Listen, I want nothing more than to see peace in my lifetime. That’s all I’m going to say.
There was controversy when Munich was released for how it portrayed the operation. All of the files are sealed and because of this, there’s a lot of room to take dramatic liberties. The fact that there are Jews who were (and are) upset about the film is very telling. But hey, even then-ADL director Abraham Foxman was criticized for supporting the film! I trust Steven Spielberg when it comes to telling the story he wants to tell.
Munich runs almost three hours long but even then, some events are left out of the film. The Lillehammer affair, for one, is not included. This saw the death of an innocent waiter in July 1973. Another documentary suggests that it was a larger Mossad operation rather than a single team of five people.
When one takes into account what Steven Spielberg is looking to accomplish in the film, Munich is a a great piece of cinema. Janusz Kaminski gorgeously lights the production, which should come as no surprise. The production takes advantage of backlots to capture the looks of various countries without needing to switch to multiple locations. Munich earned five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and Score.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
CAST: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciarán Hinds, Matthieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer, and Geoffrey Rush