It may be one of Spielberg’s best films, but domestically, it was one of his least grossing, and that’s a shame. 2005’s Munich follows one prong of Israel’s Operation: Wrath of God, launched in retaliation to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich summer Olympics by the Palestinian group Black September. It’s a brilliantly put together movie, nominated for five Oscars. A bit cerebral for a revenge thriller four years after 9/11, it didn’t do so hot with audiences.
The film is based on George Jonas’ book, Vengeance which claims to be the true story of the operation to liquidate all those responsible for the 72 massacre, as told by the leader of one of the kill squads. Israeli intelligence, for their part, questions the account. And so Munich is fiction – inspired historical fiction. Avi Dichter, the retired head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service said the movie was a children’s adventure story, “There is no comparison between the what you see in the movie and how it works in reality.” Then again, any history of the Mossad – including its internal story – is mostly a fiction, so there we are.
Still, it is authentic fiction, very well told and executed, and something more than a globe-trotting rampage justice story. What Munich delivers is a well-balanced cautionary tale about the tit-for-tat nature of revenge. Yes, retaliation – public humiliating retaliation can be both justified and counter-productive at the same time. It’s likely this level of self-reflection that caused a temped response from viewers in 2005. It is was likely opened it up for criticism of being anti-Jewish. The charge doesn’t make any sense, but then again identity politics rarely do. Leveling the complaint at the Jewish director of Schindler’s List, make it even more surreal. Again, there we are.
The acting is brilliant, although it is a little tricky in hindsight to “Un-Bond” Daniel Craig and the aggressive Steve. Where the story really grips you, however, is the exploration of revenge as a foreign policy. And makes you think, 20 years after 9/11, about the wars we are still fighting only because we’ve been fighting them so long – the objectives, at least the original ones, have long been achieved and yet… well, this is a movie review. With both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or because this is a post bipolar world, all twelve sides of the War on Terror, thinking that just one more grand gesture might prove their point for all the world to see.
Available on HBOMax, it’s also a compelling movie to watch in light of the [UAE and Israel]opening formal relations, making it only the third Arab state to do so after Egypt and Jordan.