Arts & Entertainment
AT THE MOVIES
Tale Of Terror
Few have seen
the film is
Left to right:
Generals Harari (Moshe Ivgy),
Zamir (Ami Weinberg) and Golda
Meir (Lynn Cohen)
in a scene from Munich
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
unich. Rarely in the annals of
motion pictures have keen
minds written and speculated
so much about a movie they haven't seen.
All the buzz and fuss isn't about the
quality, pacing, acting, music and cine-
matography of the movie. After all, the
label "a Steven Spielberg film" is a
Hollywood gold standard, the source of
mega-hits from Jaws to Schindler's List to
Saving Private Ryan.
The interest in Munich looks deeper
than that. For one, it's about a filmmaker's
obligation to historical fact. At the most'
profound level, it confronts the old and
new question of how war and terrorism
transform the perpetrator and, even
more, the one who takes up arms to
The film opens with still-haunting
black-and-white television footage from
the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as news-
caster Jim McKay reports on the capture,
and eventual murder, of 11 Israeli athletes
and coaches by Palestinian Black
When a botched attempt by German
police to rescue the Israeli hostages fails,
December 22 • 2005
we hear McKay's somber, "It's all over;
they are all gone."
Although there are flashbacks to the
massacre throughout the film, the main
focus shifts to a meeting between Israeli
Prime Minister Golda Meir and her top
military and intelligence leaders.
The decision is made to send a Mossad
team to Europe to hunt down and assassi-
nate 11 of the massacre's participants and
Tapped to lead the team is agent Avner
Kauffman (Eric Bana), son of a Holocaust
survivor (Gila Almagor), whose wife is
expecting the couple's first baby.
His companions make up a properly
diverse, if fictitious, team — it includes
an aggressive hit man (Daniel Craig), a
meticulous bourgeois type (Ciaran
Hinds), a toymaker-turned bomb maker
(Mathieu Kassovitz) and an expert docu-
ment forger (Hanns Zischler).
From this point, the 2 1/2-hour film
incorporates three storylines.
The first is that of a first-class action
thriller, as the squad tracks and hunts
down its targets in Italy, France, England
and Spain. There are some hits, some
misses, lots of explosions and shootings,
James Bond capers, a few car chases and a
bit of sex.
All along, Avner is fed tips, in exchange
for hefty payments, by a mysterious
Frenchman with seemingly unlimited
contacts, who may also be a double agent.
The movie's second storyline centers on
the interactions among the team's five
members, and occasionally with their
hard-nosed Mossad boss in Tel Aviv
At first, they talk shop about the techni-
cal aspects of their job, but as some of
their hits lead to overkill, the discussions
turn more subtle and intense.
Some wonder if there is a moral
dimension to their work and if this is in
conflict with millennia of Jewish history
The concerns of the "moralists" are fol-
lowed by those of the team's "pragma-
tists," who ask if the constant cycle of
attack, retaliation and counter-retaliation
will ever lead to a solution.
Spielberg has said repeatedly that this
question is at the top of his mind, and he
cleverly stresses the point by alternating
headlines of a terrorist airport bombing,
a Mossad assassination and a plane
"I am always in favor of Israel respond-
ing strongly when it's threatened;' the
filmmaker told Time magazine. "At the
same time, a response to a response does-
n't really solve anything. It just creates a
A third subplot, relatively brief but cen-
tral to Spielberg and screenwriter Tony
Kushner, is a confrontation between Avner
and Ali, the young leader of a PLO squad,
in which the aims and justifications of the
Palestinian's violence are discussed.
The encounter, while polemical, is a
well-handled piece of theater, and as an
Israeli official who has seen the movie put
it, "There isn't a Palestinian spokesman
who could express his case in three min-
utes as well as Ali."
Throughout, Avner — not an especially
introspective type — remains mission-
oriented. He is, however, beginning to be
torn between the voice of his mother, who
tells him that he is the kind of man the
victims of the Holocaust prayed for, and
the pull of his wife and new-born child.
In the end, Avner demands to know
whether all the men he has killed were
actually involved in the Munich massacre,
but receives no direct answer.