Munich (2005 film)

Last updated
Munich
Munich 1 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by
Based on Vengeance
by George Jonas
Produced by
Starring
Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
Edited by Michael Kahn
Music by John Williams
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release date
  • December 23, 2005 (2005-12-23)(United States)
Running time
163 minutes
Countries
  • United States
  • Canada
Languages
  • English
  • French
  • German
Budget$70 million [1]
Box office$131 million [1]

Munich is a 2005 spy drama film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, co-written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It is based on the 1984 book Vengeance by George Jonas, 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.

Contents

Munich was released by Universal Pictures in the United States and internationally by DreamWorks Pictures through United International Pictures on December 23, 2005, and received five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Score. The film made $131 million worldwide but just $47 million in the United States, making it one of Spielberg's lowest-grossing films domestically. [2] In 2017, the film was named the 16th "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" by The New York Times . [3] It was also Spielberg's last film distributed by Universal until The Fabelmans in 2022. [4]

Plot

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

At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kills 11 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, Kaufman 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 German antiques dealer and document forger Hans from Frankfurt. 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 Palestinian militants—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 with each other about the morality and logistics of their mission, expressing fear about their individual lack of experience, as well as their apparent 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 militant 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 on 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 US diplomats. Meanwhile, attempts are made to kill the assassins themselves. Carl is killed by an independent Dutch contract killer. In revenge, the team tracks her down and execute her at a houseboat in Hoorn, Netherlands. Hans is found stabbed to death on a park bench and 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. Avner and Steve disagree on whether 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. Concerns continue to grow when he speaks to Louis's father by phone and it is revealed he knows his real name and promises no violence will come to him from his family. 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. Avner then asks Ephraim to come to dinner with his family, to break bread as an allegory to make peace, but Ephraim refuses, perhaps as a sign that neither side will reconcile.

Cast

Critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 78% approval rating based on 211 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. The site's consensus reads, "Munich can't quite achieve its lofty goals, but this thrilling, politically even-handed look at the fallout from an intractable political conflict is still well worth watching." [5] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [6] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale. [7]

Roger Ebert praised the film, saying, "With this film [Spielberg] has dramatically opened a wider dialogue, helping to make the inarguable into the debatable." [8] [9] He placed it at No. 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 to which Berardinelli gave four stars, [12] and he also put it on his Top 100 Films of All Time list. [13] Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman mentioned Munich amongst the best movies of the decade. [14] Rex Reed from The New York Observer disagrees, writing: "With no heart, no ideology and not much intellectual debate, Munich is a big disappointment, and something of a bore." [15]

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. [16] 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." [17]

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?" [18]

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." [19] Israeli author and journalist Aaron J. Klein wrote in Slate that the movie was a "distortion" of facts, concluding that "A rigorous factual accounting may not be the point of Munich, which Spielberg has characterized as a 'prayer for peace.' But as result, Munich has less to do with history and the grim aftermath of the Munich Massacre than some might wish." [20]

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 William 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 to avenge Munich. [21]

Top ten lists

Munich was listed on many critics' top ten lists. [22]

Controversies

Some reviewers criticized Munich for what they call the film's equating the Israeli assassins with "terrorists". [24] 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". [25]

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". [26] 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." [27]

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. [28] 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". [29] Criticism was also directed at the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) National Director, Abraham Foxman, for his support of the film. [28]

David Edelstein of the online Slate magazine 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." [30]

Ilana Romano, wife of an Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano killed in the Munich massacre, said that Spielberg overlooked the Lillehammer affair, [31] [32] [33] 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." [34]

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 fact was a baggage inspector at Tel Aviv airport. [35]

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. [36] 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.

Israeli/American actor Guri Weinberg portrays his own father, wrestling coach Moshe. The younger Weinberg was only one month old when his father was killed.

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 [37] that also killed four innocent bystanders and injured 18 others. [38]

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. [39]

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. As acknowledged by Spielberg, the targets were not all directly involved in Munich. [40]

Soundtrack

Munich
Film score by
ReleasedDecember 27, 2005
Recorded2005
Studio Sony Pictures Studios
Genre Soundtrack
Length62:37
Label Decca
Producer John Williams
John Williams chronology
Memoirs of a Geisha
(2005)
Munich
(2005)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(2008)

The film score was composed and conducted by John Williams. [41]

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. [42] Filmtracks.com rated it four out of five. [43] SoundtrackNet rated it four and a half out of five. [44] ScoreNotes graded it "A−". [45]

Accolades

AwardCategorySubjectResult
AACTA Award
(2005 AFI Awards)
Best International Actor Eric Bana Nominated
Academy Awards Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Barry Mendel Nominated
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Tony Kushner and Eric Roth Nominated
Best Film Editing Michael Kahn Nominated
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
ACE Eddie Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Michael Kahn Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association AwardBest Ensemble CastWon
Critics' Choice Movie Award Best Director Steven SpielbergNominated
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Nominated
Empire Awards Best Thriller Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin WilsonNominated
Golden Eagle Award [46] Best Foreign Language Film MunichNominated
Golden Globe Award Best Director Steven SpielbergNominated
Best Screenplay Tony Kushner, Eric RothNominated
Golden Reel Awards Sound Editing in Feature FilmNominated
Golden Trailer Awards Trailer of the YearNominated
Grammy Award Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture,
Television or Other Visual Media
John WilliamsNominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle AwardBest DirectorSteven SpielbergWon
Best FilmSteven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin WilsonWon
Best Adapted ScreenplayTony Kushner, Eric RothWon
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Director Steven SpielbergNominated
Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin WilsonNominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Tony Kushner, Eric RothNominated
Best Original Score John WilliamsNominated
Best Editing Michael KahnNominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Steven SpielbergWon
Best Film Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Colin WilsonWon
Best Adapted Screenplay Tony Kushner, Eric RothNominated
Best Supporting Actor Geoffrey Rush Nominated
World Soundtrack Academy AwardBest Original SoundtrackJohn WilliamsNominated

See also

Related Research Articles

The Black September Organization (BSO) was a Palestinian militant organization founded in 1970. Besides other actions, the group was responsible for the assassination of the Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal, and the Munich massacre, in which eleven Israeli athletes and officials were kidnapped and killed, as well as a West German policeman losing his life, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, their most publicized event. These attacks led to the creation or specialization of permanent counter-terrorism forces in many European countries.

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Further reading