In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes were killed by a Palestinian terrorist group known as “Black September.”
What happened next is told in Steven Spielberg’s new film Munich, which I saw earlier today (it hits theaters on Dec. 23).
Simply put, it’s great — one of the best films I’ve seen all year. I had the emotional reaction to it that was missing from Brokeback Mountain earlier this week — no surprise, really, since I can more easily identify with the plight of Jewish people than I can with the plight of repressed gay cowboys (which I hope doesn’t sound too easily dismissive).
Munich starts out by reenacting how the terrorists took the athletes hostage, and then shows (using actual ABC News footage) how the world watched and waited, hoping for the best. Though you know the outcome, Spielberg captures the fear and suspense of the situation, making the viewer an equal participant in the agonized deathwatch.
Days later, with Israel down but not helpless, Prime Minister Golda Meir summons a former bodyguard and tells him Israel will settle the score: “Forget peace for now. We have to show them we’re strong.”
So an off-the-record black ops operation (composed of former Mossad agents) is started, lead by Eric Bana’s character, Avner, and the team of five set out to kill those responsible for the deaths in Munich.
Part of the reason Munich is so good is because Spielberg at least tries to complicate the matter, letting a Palestinian compassionately present his side at one point, showing Bana conflicted about the mission, having other members of the team question the motives and other complications arise.
After killing their first terrorist, one member of the team takes issue with using the words celebrating and rejoicing, equating it to the fact that God cried when the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea.
Spielberg is not shy about taking a point of view, however. Just seconds later, after members of Black September who were being held captive by Munich authorities are released, and the Mossad agents see the Arab reaction on TV, they comment that there are “no qualms about rejoicing on their side.”
And sure, the film is set up so your sympathy is clearly on the side of the Israelis, but it’s the ethical and moral questions that Tony Kushner’s script and Spielberg’s direction raise that make Munich such a powerful film.
Munich is long; its running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes. But I didn’t feel its length. Instead, I was gripped from beginning to end.
Munich is full of suspense and drama, of ethical questions, of passion on both sides (one character actually has the line “Don’t fuck with the Jews”), great acting, and powerful emotion. It’s really a must-see.
At one point in the film, someone says, “All this blood comes back to us,” and Munich demonstrates how with every person the Mossad agents kill, the Palestinian response is worse. It reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
It’s a testament to Munich and to Spielberg that when the film ends, it’s this thought that stays with you — not an angry, vengeful feeling that would otherwise send you out of the theater with hate.
For that, and for the reasons stated above, Munich gets an A from me.