Perhaps only a director the calibre of Steven Spielberg could take on a subject as contentious as the long and bloody Israeli-Palestinian campaign of retribution.
In September 1972, 900 million people were watching the Munich Olympics on television when a Palestinian extremist group, Black September, took 11 Israeli athletes hostage.
The disastrous siege ended tragically on the airport tarmac when German police botched a rescue mission. All the Israelis and most of the terrorists died.
Munich -“ Spielberg’s most political film to date -“ explores the Israeli covert program of targeted assassinations by the Israeli secret service, Mossad, which allegedly followed.
Australian Eric (Hulk) Bana plays the inexperienced Mossad agent Avner, who leads a team of assassins, played by Daniel Craig, Ciar?Hands, Hanns Zischler and Mathieu Kassovitz.
Mossad bureaucrat Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) outlines their objective: kill the 11 masterminds connected with the terror at Munich. An eye for an eye, it seems. It’s violent bloody work. Soon seeds of doubt grow in the agents’ minds. Where’s the proof? Will this end the terror? As they hunt their targets, they realise they too have become the hunted.
While screenwriter Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner (Angels In America) says Munich is historical fiction, this has done nothing to placate public figures in the Israeli and Palestinian camps.
For starters, critics complain Munich is based on largely discredited material from Canadian writer George Jonas’s book Vengeance, which claims to tell the story of the real life Avner -“ a man Israel later exposed as a con artist.
Critics also claim Kushner is pro-Palestinian after he called the founding of Israel a historical, moral and political calamity.
Not that Munich has pleased the Palestinians either. The mastermind of the Black September attack told Reuters that Spielberg’s film was pandering to the Jewish state.
Yet Munich takes neither side. Instead, Spielberg’s anti-war message is clear: blood begets blood. In a telling scene, Avner is given the name of a new target and told the man is the Palestinian KGB connection.
When Avner replies that he’d already assassinated the KGB connection, he is told: No, this is the new KGB agent and he is much worse.
Munich is a suspense thriller of the highest order. It doesn’t set out to offer an easy answer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What it does say is that retribution solves nothing.
While its historical accuracy may be forever disputed, there’s no denying Munich makes for compelling viewing.