Review of the film Munich





Steven Spielberg’s compelling portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of the Munich Olympics assassinations by Black September through his film ‘Munich’ is a balanced, yet provocative account. With Spielberg’s Jewish heritage, the film appears to be very emotionally driven and completely strays from his typical sentimental approach towards films. It is questionable how much poetic license Spielberg actually took versus the depiction of actual reality. As Bill Muller from the Arizona Republic in a review of the film says “It includes sex and nudity, which is not the director's habit. But with ‘Munich’ Spielberg is telling a flesh-and-blood story, so nudity serves as a metaphor for showing the events stripped of adornment.” The story Spielberg tells is one of raw emotion, one that encompasses the characters of the story and one that compels the audience.

The film starts out with a brief, and somewhat hard to follow sequence of events, using a combination of actual historical news footage, to explain the September 1972 events where eleven Israeli Olympic athletes were taken hostage and eventually killed by Palestinian terrorists. ‘Munich’ focuses on the assassination team hired by Golda Meir, then Israeli Prime Minister, backed by the Israeli government. The teams of assassins hired are all known for their specialties, and they go throughout Europe, hunting down, one by one, the members of Black September with very little rules and an unlimited budget where humorously receipts seem to be the only proof needed. The rules are simple, Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) provides a list of people to hunt down, the team has to stick to only European boundaries, ‘no bellhops or civilians’, and ultimately if they were caught, the Israeli Government never heard of them. As the film progresses, it appears as each of the hired Israeli’s are going through their own personal ethical struggle. Spielberg uses flashback style sequences, in often odd times in the film, to vividly portray the very events that were responsible for the use of this so called secret Israeli hit squad. As Ty Burr from the Boston Globe points out “Spielberg cuts back to the Olympics massacre throughout the film, reminding us of its shame and horror, and reminding us, too, exactly who the victims were.” The film ends in Brooklyn, with the leader of the hit squad and his main contact in the Israeli Government. Shortly after their conversation, a message flashes on the screen letting the viewer know that ultimately all of the terrorists were killed. During this message, there is a crystal clear view of the twin towers, Spielberg taking an incredibly far leap to somehow connect the two tragedies.

Cinema always has dramatic license, intelligently incorporating the words ‘inspired by actual events’. However, the actual events are fact and have no editing room or director. On September 5, 1972, members of the Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September, took eleven Israeli Olympic athletes hostage during the Munich Olympics. During a very chaotic chain of events, the entire episode took place in eighteen hours. The terrorists originally had the hostages in an Olympic village, which was idiotically being filmed simultaneously by journalists. The terrorists could see on the television the invasion that the German police were planning, which ultimately didn’t end well. The terrorists demanded that over two hundred Palestinian’s being held in Israeli prisons be released. The Israeli government was very firm with their no negotiations policy. The terrorists, after the botched rescue mission by the Germans, demanded that they be flown out of the country to Cairo. Once again, the Germans failed with their rescue plan at the airport, with several of the participants bailing out at the last minute and unskilled sharp shooters. This poor planning directly led to the death of the Israeli hostages, the remaining nine being killed at the airport via grenade explosions. To people’s dismay across the world, the Munich Olympics continued, with only a short recess for a memorial service. Very shortly after, Golda Meir and the Israeli Government planned the covert operation, ‘Wrath of God’, who’s main mission was to hunt down the Palestinian members of the Black September responsible for the killings. Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ is what parallels the Olympic aftermath, the hunt for the killers.

The film has received mix reviews, from all different angles. The San Francisco Chronicle directly calls it ‘unlovable’. Emanuel Goldman for Jewish Magazine said “"Munich" is a powerful albeit flawed film that grabs the viewer at the outset and doesn't let go.” Some critics believe that the film suggested moral equivalence between the terrorists and the hostages, demonstrated by several scenes in the film. One of the scenes is when a newscaster is reporting the names of the victims, while the scene flashes the Israeli Government reading the list of the terrorists. Another scene which demonstrates the parallel of the terrorists and hostages is when the Israeli assassination team is ironically booked at the same ‘safe house’ with Palestinian terrorists. Some critics believe that this humanizes the terrorists, showing them as people and not as savages. Others feel that this was a very emotional, powerful look at the actual people that took place in the events, and not the events themselves. It is often hard to distinguish people from actual events, events are cold hard facts, while people are whirlwinds of emotions.

Ultimately, Spielberg’s view of ‘Munich’ is a perspective the director has never shown his audiences before. The film is extremely graphic and sexually oriented. The Boston Globe reports “Instead, ''Munich" dwells on the violence that feeds the cycle of violence. It wonders how long righteous anger can be sustained before it tumbles into bloody-mindedness, and how long you can demonize someone before you yourself acquire monstrous aspects. It insists on a problematic common humanity -- not the notion that everyone has their reasons but that everyone thinks they're right and that such a stalemate can never be broken by killing people.” With such a tragic event that effected so many across the globe, it is impossible to please them all with an even close to accurate account of what truly happened. Spielberg used his vision, they way he viewed the massacre, to tell a story that he felt the world should know.