By JANE WILSON,Special To The Bulletin | Published January 12, 2006
Published: January 12, 2006
Steven Spielberg’s latest film, “Munich,” examines the effects of terrorism on its perpetrators, and the result is a sobering judgment of the uselessness of political violence.
Munich opens with a re-enactment of the famous hostage crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which a group of Palestinian terrorists known as Black September took 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and ultimately killed them. Spielberg uses actual television footage and shows us the reactions of both Israeli and Palestinian supporters as the tragic events unfold. One of the observers is Avner, a young agent in the Mossad, Israel’s secret service. Avner is ultimately chosen by Prime Minister Golda Meir and her advisors to lead a covert operation to hunt down and assassinate the men they have identified as the planners of the Olympic massacre.
The story of the mission is based on the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas and is “inspired by actual events,” according to the opening credits. Although clearly some retribution took place for the Olympic massacre, much controversy surrounds the actual historical events upon which the film is based.
Although the story is told from the Israeli point of view, through the perspective of Avner, the politics of the film are not necessarily pro-Israel. Instead of taking sides, the director emphasizes the toll that the mission takes on Avner and his team. He shows how the retribution does not solve the issues at hand; instead, it only escalates the violence. As the Palestinians respond to the assassinations with more terrorism, one character mentions that the two sides are now “speaking to each other.” This dialogue of violence has continued to multiply in the years since, and can, of course, be seen in our current political landscape.
Munich is not the average spy thriller. The agents who take on the mission are not superheroes armed with high-tech gadgets and weapons. Instead, Spielberg shows each one as an “everyman.” Avner does not take the job out of a desire for riches or glory; he feels he must perform this mission from a simple patriotism and love for his country. In fact, the most difficult part of the operation for him is that he must leave his wife just as she is preparing to give birth to their first child. He has no training for special operations like this, and he must learn as he goes. Played by Eric Bana, Avner becomes a desperate soul, haunted by his actions and hunted by both those he works for and those he has targeted. Bana’s portrayal clearly shows the toll taken by the deeds he has done and the necessity he feels to complete his mission.
The team he leads is likewise composed of ordinary men thrust into an extraordinary circumstance: Steve (Daniel Craig) is a self-assured getaway expert; Hans (Hanns Zischler) quietly deals in antiques and in forged documents; Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) creates both toys and bombs; and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) is the methodical “clean-up” specialist. Through excellent acting and a well-written script, viewers see the conflicts that each of these men faces. They become a sort of surrogate family for each other, bonding over Avner’s well-cooked dinners. As the mission progresses, however, they begin to doubt themselves, each other, the legitimacy of their cause, and the extreme violence that they must perpetrate, and their doubts erupt into episodes of stress, paranoia and panic.
In one scene, through a scheduling conflict, the team is forced to share lodgings with a group of agents they later learn is working for the man they are supposed to assassinate. The interaction between the two groups shows that despite a difference in ideology, they are actually very similar. A conversation between Avner and the leader of the opposing team demonstrates the futility of their conflict. Even if they are killed, other soldiers will be there to take their places, and the violence will continue, generation after generation.
The script, written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, offers well-rounded and interesting characters, and the action is both complex and gripping. Spielberg’s use of actual news footage and period details helps to lend an air of authenticity to the film. Rated R for violence and sexual content, the film would not be appropriate for younger viewers.
In short, “Munich” is a compelling look at both a tragic history and a continuing problem. Spielberg clearly connects the events of the Munich massacre and its aftermath to the problems of terrorism currently a part of the world’s struggles. He shows the never-ending spiral of violence as a tragedy of individual, national and worldwide dimensions.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.