(Israel Twitter)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 murder 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.
The film was shot in various places around Malta (which stands in for Tel Aviv, Beirut, Cyprus, Athens, and Rome), in Budapest (standing in for London, Rome, and for the German airport of Fürstenfeldbruck), Paris, and New York.
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.
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, 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 an 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. 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.
At the end, Avner is dispirited and disillusioned. He flies to Israel and then to his new home in New York 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 NY 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 isn't 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.
A postscript notes that 9 of the 11 men targeted by Mossad were eventually assassinated, including Salameh in 1979.
Eric Bana as Avner Kaufman based on Yuval Aviv
Daniel Craig as Steve
Ciarán Hinds as Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz as Robert
Hanns Zischler as Hans
Ayelet Zurer as Daphna Kaufman
Omar Metwally as Ali
Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim
Gila Almagor as Avner's Mother
Karim Saleh as Issa - Luttif Afif
Michael Lonsdale as Papa
Mathieu Amalric as Louis
Ziad Adwan as Kamal Adwan
Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Sylvie
Meret Becker as Yvonne
Marie-Josée Croze as Jeanette (the Dutch Assassin)
Yvan Attal as Tony
Ami Weinberg as Major General Zvi Zamir
Lynn Cohen as Prime Minister Golda Meir
Amos Lavi as General Aharon Yariv
Moshe Ivgy as Mike Harari
Michael Warshaviak as Attorney General Meir Shamgar
Samuel Calderon as Mossad Director Yitzhak Hofi
Makram Khoury as Wael Zwaiter
Dirar Suleiman as Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar
Bijan Daneshmand as Kamal Nasser
Jonathan Rozen as Ehud Barak
Mehdi Nebbou as Ali Hassan Salameh
Karim Saleh as Luttif Afif
Moa Khouas as Jamal Al-Gashey
Guri Weinberg as Moshe Weinberg
Sam Feuer as Yossef Romano
Sabi Dorr as Yossef Gutfreund
David Feldman as Kehat Shorr
Ori Pfeffer as Andre Spitzer
Joseph Sokolsly as Amitzur Shapira
Lior Perel as David Mark Berger
Ossie Beck as Eliezer Halfin
Guy Amir as Mark Slavin
Haguy Wigdor as Ze'ev Friedman
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."  and placed it at #3 on his top ten list of 2005. 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; 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."
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.
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?
Some reviewers have criticized Munich for what they call the film's equating the Israeli assassins with "terrorists". 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".
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. 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."
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. 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". Criticism was also directed at the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) National Director, Abraham Foxman for his support of the film
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. 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.