Munich: Espionage Thriller

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Despite the fact that Hitler had stripped Jews of their citizenship just a year earlier, the International Olympic Committee decided to allow Berlin to host the Games during the summer of ’36. And the absence of a reaction on the part of the United States and other participating nations only served to fuel the subsequent Nazi expansion which eventuated in World War II and the Holocaust.

For this reason, the whole world was watching Munich in ’72, the first occasion on which the Games would again be staged in Germany.

Optimistically billed as “The Olympics of Serenity,� its consciously-cultivated aura of peace and harmony was irreversibly shattered in the wee hours of the morning of September 5 when a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) extremist wing dubbed Black September stormed the Israeli compound.

By the time the ensuing, tense standoff ended with a bloody shootout about 20 hours later after a badly botched rescue attempt, 11 Israeli hostages, 1 policeman, and 5 of the terrorists lay dead. “They’re all gone,� was the ever-echoing refrain uttered by stunned, ABC-TV anchorman Jim McKay when he went on the air to inform the public.

Munich, an emotionally-engaging, espionage thriller directed by Steven Spielberg, revisits the retribution eventually exacted in the aftermath of that awful tragedy. Based on the 1984 best seller “Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team� by George Jonas, this riveting tale was previously adapted into a made-for-TV movie entitled Sword of Gideon.

With a plotline more similarly-structured to the HBO production than the original source material, this version stars Eric Bana (Hulk) as Avner, the Mossad agent personally tapped by Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) to lead a team of five assassins sent on a top secret mission to track down and kill the masterminds of the Munich massacre. Out of a sense of patriotic duty, this son of a war hero accepts the assignment, leaving behind a young wife (Ayelet Zurer) who is seven months pregnant with their first child.

Relying on the limitless funds provided by Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), the only Israeli intelligence officer he is permitted to contact, Avner adopts a new identity and assembles a hand-picked task force of a highly-skilled experts. This includes Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a Belgian bomb-maker; German-Jew Hans (Hanns Zischler), a crack forger and document expert; Carl (Ciaran Hinds), a crime scene sweeper who coolly cleans up after each hit; and Steve (Daniel Craig), their South African getaway driver.
Understanding that, if caught, Israel would disavow any connection to them, the quintet quickly disappears deep undercover. They embark on a operation which has them crisscrossing Europe with stops in Geneva, Frankfurt, Rome, Paris, Athens, Cyprus, Holland, and London, before returning to the Middle East. What makes this movie so remarkable and far more compelling than a typical, political potboiler is the degree to which the personalities of the principal characters are detailed and developed. For ever so subtly, Spielberg masterfully conveys the toll which the inordinate tension of their job and the mechanics of their methods take on his subjects’ souls.

Adrift, away from friends and family for months and months on end, the fallout of the job is evidenced by an erosion of moral bearings, and intermittent questioning of the whether an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the right response to terrorism. Though spiritually transformed in unanticipated ways, missing loved ones, and plagued, alternatively, by both disgust and self-doubt, they persevere, in spite of the discouraging realization that they have somehow been discovered by the enemy, and are now, too, being hunted one-by-one. A most-profound morality play which essentially expounds upon an elemental Biblical passage.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for explicit eroticism,
expletives, nudity, graphic violence,
and sex-linked gore.
Running time: 164 minutes
Distributor: Universal

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