Spielberg took on the real-world events in 1972 of the Palestinian Black September group’s horrific killing of Israeli Olympic athletes and the resulting action taken by Israeli forces in retribution.
Spielberg takes no sides in retelling the event, instead engaging in the human drama at work in the thriller, the effect of the ongoing conflict, and the wearing down of one’s own humanity in those actions.
The cast is led by Eric Bana as Avner, the man who is put in charge of hunting down Palestinian targets in retribution for the dead hostages, and Spielberg surrounds him with other top-tier actors, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Lonsdale, Ayelet Zurer, Mathieu Almaric, and Geoffrey Rush.
Avner’s group struggles with their own efforts, motivations, and their actions’ effect on them. They hunt down names, execute them, bomb them, and shoot them, but in a world where any information can be bought for the right price, how long will it be before the hunters become the hunted?
Spielberg takes his time with the tale, letting the audience deal with the events that haunt Avner – the night of the hostages’ execution. He takes us through the attacks, the assassinations, target by target, and shows the horrors on both sides of the conflict.
John Williams, seemingly always at Spielberg’s side, delivers another beautiful score. At the same time, longtime collaborator Michael Kahn edits the film, which is based on the non-fiction book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas. Spielberg’s film fictionalizes some of the events but uses Jonas’ book as the bones for the tale.
Spielberg weaves an engaging tale, heightening the panic and the horror inherent in each attack, crafting tense sequences that he balances with well-created characters, and solid location work.
Munich walked away with five nominations for Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Score, though it didn’t walk away with any of them. Stil the nominations alone suggest how strong a film it is.
It’s a solid entry in Spielberg’s filmography, and while not my favourite of his works, it is, nonetheless, an important film. I do enjoy seeing how Spielberg has grown and changed over the decades, he can still deliver a fun popcorn movie, but also can turn his attention to other thematic material and conjure important dialogue because of it.
Next time around, Spielberg goes back to the well for another Indiana Jones sequel, and a film that could be argued as his worst, but that’s up to the viewer.