Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Steve Spielberg
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Geoffrey Rush
(R, 164 min.)
"If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live." Martin Luther King
For all its critical acclaim, Munich is a manipulative and essentially soulless film that confuses victim for victimizer and mistakes preening self-righteousness for moral outrage.
Based on the 1984 book, Vengeance, it chronicles the reprisal killings of those held responsible for ordering the massacre of eleven Israelis at the 1972 Olympics. What some call balance others see as unjustified moral equivalency as the targeted assassinations of the Munich masterminds are put on a moral plane with the brutal slayings that preceded them. Indeed, even the killings themselves are portrayed with subtle differences. The shots of the Munich slayings are interspersed with actual newscast footage, but the killings per se are presented as a kind of artistic montage with quick cuts that shy away from too much blood or gore, distancing it from reality through the camera’s eye.
On the other hand, we are up close and personal with most of the retaliation deaths. The first takes place in the dark hallways as the unsuspecting victim of the Israeli assassination team waits for the elevator at his apartment in Rome. The bullets pierce his grocery bag as well as his chest, and we watch the milk and blood run together on the floor as the assassins flee. Another Israeli killing is in retribution for the death of one of their own at the hand of a professional female killer as beautiful as she is lethal. She is gunned down aboard her cozy houseboat in the Netherlands, among the leafy plants that line her deck with her purring cat seated upon her lap. Each member shoots her and they leave her naked and bullet-ridden body sprawled out for the world to see.
And in almost all the targeted Israeli killings, the victims are personalized to a great degree. We see the first victim giving an informal lecture about his scholarly book along the cobbled streets of Rome. On the way home he stops at the local deli to buy a few select items and engages in pleasant conversation with the owner, who treats him as a long-time and valued customer.
And in a purely engineered for film scene not in the book, Avner, the Israeli team leader talks with a Palestinian who ends up in the same safe house as his team. The Palestinian couldn’t be more sympathetic in the intimate conversation with his unknown enemy as he waxes on about the olive trees of his father’s lost orchard and hits all the usual PLO talking points in between long puffs on his cigarette. When the two cross paths in a subsequent shootout and Avner must kill him, the audience shares his angst.
On the other hand, beyond their names, we never learn anything about the eleven Israeli victims. There are no shots of them with their families, no mention or footage of the widows and children they leave behind. That is limited to the planners of their massacre. The second victim, for example, is pictured with his loving wife and adorable child as he sits behind his massive desk at a well-appointed apartment in Paris. Again the scholarly associations, the soft touches of civility in luxurious surroundings with nothing to suggest a sinister connection to eleven deaths.
To his credit, Spielberg does show the lengths the team goes to in order to protect innocent life. When the target’s daughter returns unexpectedly to the Paris apartment, Avner risks exposure as he races wildly through the streets to forestall the explosion rigged to go off with an answered telephone. The team members are also quite ruffled when a bomb is stronger than expected and does some harm to hotel residents in an adjoining room. But Spielberg chooses to leave out the more explicit dialogue from the book where the team members are forbidden to incur civilian casualties, the “zero risk” imperative specifically in contrast to the modus operandi of the terrorists they are hunting down.
In another deviation from the book, Spielberg has the team members plagued by self-doubts and wondering if their assassinations are creating terrorists faster than they are destroying them. Furthermore, a Frenchman they employ to find their targets gives a long homily about his refusal to work for governments, insisting that one corrupt regime is merely replaced by another. Left undisputed is his current practice of working for the highest bidder, even when it may mean targeting his current clients, as happens in the film.
But this fodder is too good to challenge through closer examination as it fits so well into the template underpinning Munich: the not too subtle parallel commentary on the futility of the War on Terror and the Iraqi conflict. When you’re on such a roll, why stop to let truth slow you down.
Much of Munich is the rather bland -- if indeed bloody death can ever be so -- recreation of the targeted assassinations of the Israeli team under the leadership of former Mossad agent Avner. The more human and revealing moments are usually around the dinner table, for you see, the team leader for the assassination squad is also an excellent cook.
His meals are masterpieces for eye as well as the palate, a fact that endears him to his French connection, also a man of epicurean tastes. The elder Frenchman takes him on a tour of his extensive gardens, and as he gathers the ripe apple or piquant herb, he unburdens his heart to Avner. Alas, he had wanted to be a master chef, but his thick hands held him back, so he finessed his wartime resistance efforts into a lucrative information agency instead. Looking at Avner’s chunky hands, the Frenchman comments that both men have the hands of butchers and not chefs.
Thick though they may be, those lethal hands are happiest when they are slicing garden greens instead of throats. Avner and the Frenchman are quite efficient at both, but seem most content with the former. Since both Israeli and French table host fresh zucchini, I’ve chosen a simple Israeli recipe, “Zuchinni Pritti,” to complement Munich.
Zucchini was mentioned in the Bible (Book of Leviticus), and, until this day has remained part of the fare in Israel and neighboring lands.
- 6 small zucchini
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 chopped onions
- salt and pepper
- 1 chopped green and/or red pepper
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
Cut zucchini into rings and fry in oil. Set zucchini aside. Fry chopped onion until transparent. Add tomatoes, black pepper, salt and green and/or red pepper. Saute until soft. Pour over zucchini rings.
Recipe Source: Israeli Recipes