Eleven Israeli athletes are kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The situation does not end well and all of the athletes are killed. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier discusses a response, a solution, with her closest advisors. Ultimately, they decide to use force, to show Israel is not weak. They contact Avner (Eric Bana), a former Mossad agent, and ask him to lead a team of men to kill the eleven Palestinians responsible for Munich. His team includes: Steve (Daniel Craig), an Afrikaner adept with cars, Carl (Ciaran Hinds), the `cleaner', Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a toymaker who works with explosives, and Hans (Hanns Zischler), a documents expert. As they fulfill their missions, their doubts grow and the level of danger increases.
"Munich" directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, is a powerful, challenging film.
Ostensibly a thriller, the film devotes a significant amount of time addressing the moral issues of "an eye for an eye". As the death toll rises, Avner's team has thoughtful discussions about the goals and consequences of their missions. Each target is an individual mission, some are easier than others, but as they set about their jobs, Avner's team works very hard to ensure there is little collateral damage. One target lives with his wife and daughter in Paris and the team quickly aborts the mission when they realize the daughter has returned home unexpectedly. Much of their discussion centers on the moral issues at stake.
Initially, the people who planned Munich, stay in the open, living their normal lives, because they are viewed as heroes within their community. This raises the ire of the team of Israeli assassins. After they take out their first target, receiving no mention in the news, Avner and his team realize they will have to use different methods, methods designed to attract attention and send a message to the community. But these will also be more dangerous, making it more difficult to prevent collateral damage. Their actions begin to form a circle of problems and solutions, solutions and problems.
This circle is also a topic of discussion. As their missions become successful, the Palestinians retaliate. When will the cycle end? Can it ever end if they are successful with all eleven targets? For each target they remove, another takes their place. At one point, they are even dispatched to take out the replacement. The Palestinians also attack new targets, killing innocent people. All of this begins to weigh heavily on the team, affecting them in different ways.
Spielberg does an excellent job of presenting arguments for both sides without forsaking the tenants of a motion picture. The episodic nature of the film aids in this process, allowing the director to present thriller like elements book ended with segments of discussion, introspection, guilt. After each target, there is a natural period of less activity as they wait for the next target, plan for the next mission. As they sit. And wait. And wait. Their minds naturally begin to wander and focus on other things. And they talk. Allowing the characters, and the filmmakers, to discuss the various aspects of their missions. Each member of the team is committed to the cause to varying degrees. All agree that a response is necessary, but Steve (Craig) seems to be the only one who doesn't have any objections to their current task.
As they progress in their missions, work further up the food chain, each of the team members deals with their problems in a different way. Some become depressed, some argue and fight, some shut down. Ultimately, it rips some of them apart.
Avner (Eric Bana) has deep misgivings about it. Bana turns in his best performance as the leader of the group. On the one hand, he has nightmares about the deaths of the athletes, on the other he has moral problems with their mission to assassinate others. He spends a lot of time reflecting, but those nightmares ultimately help him continue, to move forward. As the team leader, he is unable to show much of the doubt he has to his team, he must show them he is strong. One of the methods he uses to vent his frustration is to cook large meals for the team, during their periods of inactivity. As the danger level mounts, he also becomes more and more paranoid, suspecting at one point that the government he works for may have targeted his family. His performance portrays the majority of these emotions without words, allowing his actions to speak for or thinly disguise his emotions.
The rest of the team is also very good. Geoffrey Rush plays Avner's government contact or handler, his contact with a government who claims he doesn't exist. Mathieu Kassovitz ("Amelie"'s boyfriend), Ciaran Hinds and Hanns Zischler are all good, showing their character's moral objections in their own ways. At first, I had some problems with Daniel Craig's ("Layer Cake", the new James Bond) portrayal of Steve. I just didn't get what he was trying to do, his accent was just plain strange. Then, someone refers to his character as "Afrikaner" and it all made sense. His character works, but it is the least interesting because Steve is the least conflicted about their goals.
What Spielberg does is very interesting. He has created a film with suspenseful elements, in an international setting, along the lines of "The Bourne Identity" or "Three Days of the Condor". Then he blends in political elements, discussions of ideology, morality and more. It shouldn't work. You would think it might be boring. But it does work. And I was never bored for the 165 minutes the film ran. It is a bit of a conundrum that the film should work.
Much like the conundrum Avner and his team face every day of their mission.