Munich is a 2005 historical drama film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It is based on the book Vengeance, an account of Operation Wrath of God, the Israeli government's secret retaliation against the Palestine Liberation Organization after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Steven Spielberg|
by George Jonas
|Music by||John Williams|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Box office||$130.4 million|
Munich received five Academy Awards nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Score. The film made $130 million worldwide but just $47 million in the United States, making it one of Spielberg's lowest-grossing films domestically. In 2017, the film was named the sixteenth "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" by The New York Times.
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kills eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. Avner Kaufman, a Mossad agent of German-Jewish descent, is chosen to lead a mission to assassinate 11 Palestinians allegedly involved in the massacre. At the direction of his handler Ephraim, to give the Israeli government plausible deniability, Avner resigns from Mossad and operates with no official ties to Israel. His team includes four Jewish volunteers from around the world: South African driver Steve, Belgian toy-maker and explosives expert Robert, former Israeli soldier and "cleaner" Carl, and Danish document forger Hans. They are given information by a French informant, Louis.
In Rome, the team shoots and kills Wael Zwaiter, who is living as a poet. In Paris, they detonate a bomb in the home of Mahmoud Hamshari; in Cyprus, they bomb the hotel room of Hussein Abd Al Chir. With IDF commandos, they pursue three Palestinians—Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar, Kamal Adwan, and Kamal Nasser—to Beirut, penetrate the Palestinians' guarded compound and kill all three.
Between hits, the assassins argue about the morality and logistics of their mission, expressing fear about their individual lack of experience, as well as ambivalence about accidentally killing innocent bystanders. Avner makes a brief visit to his wife, who has given birth to their first baby. In Athens, when they track down Zaiad Muchasi, the team finds out that Louis arranged for them to share a safe house with their rival PLO members, and the Mossad agents escape trouble by pretending to be members of foreign terrorist groups like ETA, IRA, ANC, and the Red Army Faction. Avner has a heartfelt conversation with PLO member Ali over their homelands and who deserves to rule over the lands; Ali is later shot by Carl while the team escapes from the hit on Muchasi.
The squad moves to London to track down Ali Hassan Salameh, who orchestrated the Munich Massacre, but the assassination attempt is interrupted by several drunken Americans. It is implied that these are agents of the CIA, which, according to Louis, protects and funds Salameh in exchange for his promise not to attack U.S. diplomats. Meanwhile, attempts are made on the assassins themselves. Carl is killed by an independent Dutch contract killer. In revenge, the team tracks her down and executes her at a houseboat in Hoorn, Netherlands. Hans is found stabbed to death on a park bench, while Robert is killed by an explosion in his workshop. Avner and Steve finally locate Salameh in Spain, but again their assassination attempt is thwarted, this time by Salameh's armed guards. It is implied that Louis has sold information on the team to the PLO.
A disillusioned Avner flies to Israel, where he is unhappy to be hailed as a hero by two young soldiers, and then to his new home in Brooklyn, where he suffers post-traumatic stress and paranoia. He is thrown out of the Israeli consulate after storming in to demand that Mossad leave his wife and child alone. Ephraim comes to ask Avner to return to Israel and Mossad, but Avner refuses.
- Eric Bana as Avner Kaufman based on Yuval Aviv
- Daniel Craig as Steve
- Ciarán Hinds as Carl
- Omar Metwally as Ali
- Mathieu Kassovitz as Robert
- Hanns Zischler as Hans
- Ayelet Zurer as Daphna Kaufman
- Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim
- Mehdi Nebbou as Ali Hassan Salameh
- Gila Almagor as Avner's Mother
- Karim Saleh as Issa
- Michael Lonsdale as Papa
- Mathieu Amalric as Louis
- Ziad Adwan as Kamal Adwan
- Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas
- Yvan Attal as Tony
- Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Sylvie
- Meret Becker as Yvonne
- Roy Avigdori as Gad Tsobari
- Marie-Josée Croze as Jeanette
- Lynn Cohen as Golda Meir
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film garnered a 78% approval rating from critics. Roger Ebert praised the film, saying, "With this film [Spielberg] has dramatically opened a wider dialogue, helping to make the inarguable into the debatable." He placed it at No. 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 to which Berardinelli gave four stars, and he also put it on his Top 100 Films of All Time list. Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman mentioned Munich amongst the best movies of the decade. Differently, 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 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 engage 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?"
Another critique was Gabriel Schoenfeld's "Spielberg's 'Munich'" in the February 2006 issue of 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."
Writing in Empire, Ian Nathan wrote "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."
In defense of the climactic sex scene, critics Jim Emerson of the Chicago Sun-Times and Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon compared it to Lady Macbeth's suicide in Shakespeare's Macbeth, interpreting the sequence as representing the corruption of Avner's personal life as a result of his being conditioned to kill others in order to avenge Munich.
Top ten listsEdit
Munich was listed on many critics' top ten lists.
- 1st – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
- 1st – James Berardinelli, Reelviews
- 1st – David Edelstein, Slate
- 2nd – William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- 2nd – Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
- 3rd – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- 4th – Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper
- 4th – Claudia Puig, USA Today
- 5th – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 5th – Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
- 5th – Richard Schickel, Time
- 5th – Kimberly Jones, Austin Chronicle
- 5th – Ty Burr, Boston Globe
- 5th – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
- 7th – Scott Foundas, L.A. Weekly
- 8th – David Ansen, Newsweek
- 8th – Steve Davis, Austin Chronicle
- 9th – Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun
- 10th – Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
- 10th – Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
- 10th – A.O. Scott, The New York Times
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically) – Carrie Rickey & Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically) – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
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. In an interview with Reuters, a retired head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service and former Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, 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".  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, whom 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.
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."
Illano Romano, wife of an Israeli weightlifter slain in the Munich massacre, pointed out that Spielberg overlooked the Lillehammer affair, 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. The Jewish Journal said that "the revenge squad obsess about making sure only their targets are hit -- and meticulous care is taken to avoid collateral damage. Yet in one shootout an innocent man is also slain ... The intense moral contortions the agents experience as the corpses pile up makes up the substance of the movie."
According to Ronen Bergman as reported in Newsweek, it is a myth that Mossad agents hunted down and killed those responsible for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games; in fact most of the people were never killed or caught. Most of the people that Mossad did kill had nothing to do with the Munich deaths. He says the film was based on a book whose source was an Israeli who claimed to be the lead assassin of the hit squad, but in actual fact was a baggage inspector at Tel Aviv airport.
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 Hamshari, a senior PLO figure, was killed in Paris by a bomb concealed in the table below his telephone. Although 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, Hussein al-Bashir, and Zaiad Muchasi, some of whose deaths are depicted in the film. Ali Hassan Salameh was also a real person, and a prominent member of Black September. In 1979 he was killed in Beirut by a car bomb that also killed four innocent bystanders and injured 18 others.
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.
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 five minutes.
As mentioned above, the film notably ignored the Lillehammer affair, where Israeli assassins killed a Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki, mistaking him for Ali Hassan Salameh. 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." The agents who were responsible for the killing were tried and convicted in Norway of murder. Israel compensated the victim's family but never took responsibility for the assassination.
|Film score by John Williams|
|Released||December 27, 2005|
|Studio||Sony Pictures Studios|
|John Williams chronology|
The soundtrack album was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score but lost to the score of the film Brokeback Mountain. It was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media but lost to the score of Memoirs of a Geisha (also scored by Williams).
AllMusic rated the soundtrack three and a half stars out of five. Filmtracks.com rated it four out of five. SoundtrackNet rated it four and a half out of five. ScoreNotes graded it "A-".
(2005 AFI Awards)
|Best International Actor||Eric Bana||Nominated|
|Academy Awards||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Nominated|
|Best Picture||Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Barry Mendel||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Tony Kushner and Eric Roth||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||John Williams||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Michael Kahn||Nominated|
|ACE Eddie||Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic||Nominated|
|Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award||Best Ensemble Cast||Won|
|Critics' Choice Movie Award||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Nominated|
|Directors Guild of America Award||Outstanding Directing – Feature Film||Nominated|
|Empire Awards||Best Thriller||Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Award||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Tony Kushner, Eric Roth||Nominated|
|Golden Reel Awards||Sound Editing in Feature Film||Nominated|
|Golden Trailer Awards||Trailer of the Year||Nominated|
|Grammy Award||Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture,
Television or Other Visual Media
|Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Won|
|Best Film||Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson||Won|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Tony Kushner, Eric Roth||Won|
|Online Film Critics Society Awards||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Nominated|
|Best Picture||Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Tony Kushner, Eric Roth||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||John Williams||Nominated|
|Best Editing||Michael Kahn||Nominated|
|Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards||Best Director||Steven Spielberg||Won|
|Best Film||Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin Wilson||Won|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Tony Kushner, Eric Roth||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Geoffrey Rush||Nominated|
|World Soundtrack Academy Award||Best Original Soundtrack||John Williams||Nominated|
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