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Film / Munich

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"We're Jews, Avner. Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong."
"We can't afford to be that decent anymore."
"I don't know if we ever were that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn't make you decent. But we're supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. That's Jewish. That's what I knew, that's what I was taught and I'm losing it. I lose that and that's everything. That's my soul."
Robert and Avner Kaufman

Munich is a 2005 film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It, along with the HBO film Sword of Gideon, were based on the bestseller Vengeance by George Jonas.

In 1972, eleven Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich were captured by Palestinian gunmen and killed, and the Israeli government decided on an "eye for an eye" retaliation, drawing up the names of eleven people they wanted killed.

The story follows Israeli-born German-raised Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) as he assembles his team and starts to work on their targets. But with each person killed, he's in danger of losing more and more of his humanity.

Keep in mind that due to its volatile subject matter, this is a highly controversial film.

For the actual place Munich, look no further. Not to be confused with Munich - The Edge of War, which is about the 1938 Munich Agreement.

This work provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Quite a few of the targets are this, which makes them far more human to the audience.
    • Most notable is the man who politely chats with Avner and offers him some sleeping pills just before Avner blows up his hotel room.
    • The young member of the PLO group who has a conversation with Avner, when both their groups accidentally end up sharing a safehouse together. He lays out his case to Avner very simply: "Nothing is more important than home". He is then gunned down in the street right in front of Avner, who is visibly horrified.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The death of Jeanette, Carl's assassin, is portrayed in a somber and disturbing light. Her killers, despite going after her in revenge for their fallen comrade, are visibly disturbed by how agonising and drawn-out her death was.
  • The Alleged Expert: Played for Drama — one team member was brought in as a bomb maker, but his bombs are always defective. He finally admits that he was trained to defuse bombs, and only decided to try making them when Mossad asked him to.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: Steve is this to an extent. He’s South African and while he’s not a villain, he is shown to be one of the more radical operatives on the team; he has few qualms about collateral damage so long as the mission is carried out and the Munich Massacre is avenged. He even outright says that the only blood spilled that matters to him is Jewish blood.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: One of the targets does this when he mentions that compared to the reaction of the Munich massacre, nobody says anything about the children killed in Israel's military attacks against Palestinians.
  • Badass Israeli: This applies to varying degrees to all members of the assassination squad. Avner and Steve are both ex-Mossad while the rest of the squad make up in guile and viciousness for what they lack in military experience.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Several Yiddish or Hebrew words are brought up but not explained:
    • Avner is referred to as a yekke, and then a sabra. A "yekke" is a Jew of German origin. A "sabra" is a Jew born in Israel. Avner qualifies as both because he was born in Israel but his father and grandfather were German.
    • The term "Pesach" - Passover - goes untranslated as well.
    • The word "kibbutz" is used. A kibbutz is a farming settlement on Israeli soil that - especially in the early 20th century - practiced communal childrearing. Thus, knowing that Avner was raised on one helps us understand why his wife thinks his mother abandoned him.
  • Brick Joke: A Mossad accountant sternly tells Avner that he wants receipts for their operational expenses. Later, when the team is planning their first hit, Avner tells the group that they need receipts.
  • Call-Forward: The shot of the Twin Towers at the end, as Avner contemplates everything that's happened in the name of justice and vengeance.
  • Cleanup Crew: Carl serves as the team's "sweeper." After the first hit, he goes to the scene and removes the bullet casings.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The female assassin gets shot in the chest and throat, but because they used improvised guns with low caliber rounds, the wounds don't kill her instantly and she ends up bleeding in agonizing pain before Hans finishes her off with a headshot. Even Avner and Steve looked visibly disturbed as they watch her bleed out.
  • Cycle of Revenge: A major theme of the film, in which the protagonists' pursuit of vengeance on behalf of their country spirals into a mutual cycle of violence, resulting in the team losing its members one by one.
  • Darker and Edgier: The female assassin's death is this in comparison to the original film. In the original, she gets finished off with a headshot as the camera pans away from her body. Here, she dies in a slow and agonizing way and her body is completely exposed.
  • Downer Ending: Avner is completely disillusioned with his mission and country and turns down Ephraim's request to return to Israel, and Ephraim turns down Avner's offer to break bread with him. Ephraim refusing to break bread with a former citizen and soldier, even under Avner's olive branch of sharing Jewish heritage, is him saying he doesn't even consider Avner a Jew like he is, indicating that Avner and his whole team were disavowed and considered expendable, and most of them died for nothing. The homeland Avner sacrificed almost everything for has rejected him as much as he rejects it now.
  • Due to the Dead: Subverted. After killing the Honey Trap assassin, Avner closes her robe to cover her naked body. Hans then opens it again, though he later expresses guilt about it.
  • Dwindling Party: Throughout the film, the members of Avner's crew are killed one by one right until only him and Steve are left.
  • Fan Disservice:
  • Food Porn: The men are often seen sitting and enjoying sumptuous meals that they've prepared themselves, often before or after a kill.
  • Foreshadowing: When Avner says his work is the kind that requires a drink, the woman responds that they must be in the same business. As it turns out, they are; she's an assassin, too.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: One of the more controversial and brilliant aspects of the film is its refusal to show either side as being necessarily more righteous or dignified in what they do.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: One of the more controversial aspects of the film is the way it depicts the operation as being an example of this.
    Robert, "the Bomb Maker": We're supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. And we're losing it. If I lose that, that's everything. That's my soul.
  • Honey Trap: One of the team members sees a hot lady and, jokingly, mentions this trope by name. It turns out that she really is one.
  • Honor Before Reason: During the flashback, one of the Israelis has an opportunity to escape through the window. Then he sees a knife on the floor and goes after the terrorists, resulting in his death.
  • Hope Spot: During the intro, two reporters announce that all the hostages have been saved, and Israeli viewers react with tearful relief. It then cuts to Jim McKay's famous broadcast in which he broke the news of the tragedy.
    "When I was a kid my father used to say 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.' Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms this morn— yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."
  • Instant Death Bullet: Graphically averted a few times.
  • Instant Thunder: Averted in the opening. A reporter is covering the events at the airport, and a fireball erupts behind him as one of the helicopters explodes. He doesn't notice for a few seconds until the sound reaches him.
  • Iron Lady: Prime Minister Golda Meir. After the massacre, she tells the military leadership that sending air strikes against terrorist camps doesn't send a strong enough message.
  • It Gets Easier: Played horrifyingly straight. The first kill is quite tense for both the characters and the audience, but then after that it becomes much easier on them and us. The first kill is a poet whom we see buying groceries and chatting with the lady behind the counter; the second is a political activist whose young daughter is featured front and center and whom the team almost blows up by mistake. The third briefly makes chitchat with Avner on the hotel balcony, joking that their neighbors will keep them up all night by having sex. After that there aren't so many humanizing moments.
  • It's Personal: After one of them is killed by an assassin.
  • Jerkass: Louis. His dad is more of a Punch Clock Mercenary.
  • Karma Houdini: The team fails to assassinate the purported mastermind of the Munich killings, though it's subverted in the epilogue which reveals that he was assassinated several years later. Played straight/subverted in the fact that only 9 of the original 11 targets were killed, though Ephraim admits that Mossad is not positively sure that the targets were involved with the Munich killings at all.
  • Lady in Red: Avner meets a woman in red at a bar who tries to proposition him. Turns out that she's an assassin sent after his team.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: The Dutch assassin (called Jeanette in the credits) who tries to distract with her sexy the Mossad agents. She pulls open her robe, beneath which she's naked, and immediately gets shot in the chest and throat. Rather than be blown backwards or cry out in pain, she stumbles vaguely around her houseboat while the agents disassemble their one-use weapons, gives her cat a hug, sits down in a chair, and just wheezes horribly while blood finally starts to pour out of her wounds. Then Hans finishes her off with a headshot.
    • Justifiable to a point as the assassins were using small caliber rounds which unless the target is shot in the head, as she finally was, you can in theory survive it.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: In-universe, Carl's assassin has no redeeming qualities (minus her cat), compared with the first two targets (see It Gets Easier above) but, perhaps because she's young, female, unarmed, and naked, not to mention how agonizing and drawn-out her death was, it comes off as more morally dubious and distressing to several of the agents than the other deaths.
  • Mexican Standoff: One occurs when Louis double-books the group's Athens safe house and a group of assorted revolutionaries stumbles in at the dead of night.
  • Morality Pet: The second target's daughter. And Carl's assassin has a cat that she tries to hold as she's dying.
  • Multinational Team: All of the squad are Israeli citizens, but all of them except Avner are olim— Jewish immigrants to Israel from elsewhere—Steve is South African, Robert is Belgian, Hans is Danish, and Carl is probably German but it is never established.
  • No Place for Me There: Avner risks his safety, his family, his sanity and does things he will never forget or forgive himself for. All for the sake of a country that makes it clear people like him and his team have no place in the new peaceful future they have fought and, in some cases, died for.
  • No Pregger Sex: Averted; after having sex with his visibly pregnant wife, Abner asks her "How long into the pregnancy should we stop having sex?" Between heavy breaths, she responds: "Labor."
  • Oh, Crap!: Carl, when he calls the second target and the target's young daughter picks up the phone instead.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: When Avner covers up the bloody, exposed corpse of the female assassin with her robe, Hans tells him "Leave it" and pulls her robe open again, as if to make her death as humiliating as possible.note  Hans later regrets this.
  • Plausible Deniability: Avner resigns from the Mossad in order to give the Israeli government deniability.
    Ephraim: You are now officially unofficial, unemployed and uninsured.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Invoked at the end when Ephraim openly tells Avner that the men he has eliminated will be replaced by men who are even worse and more motivated, basically telling Avner that his sacrifice has been entirely pointless.
  • Sexy Coat Flashing: Carl's assassin, seeing that his friends have come to avenge him, opens her robe (she is nude underneath) in an attempt to distract or dissuade them. It doesn't work. One wonders why she thought it would, seeing that she killed their friend right after seducing him... though it may have been an act of desperation.
  • Sole Survivor: Besides Avner, Steve is the only member of the team to make it to the end.
  • Spiritual Successor: It could be considered as this to Schindler's List. Jon Stewart at the 2006 Oscars:
    Schindler's List... Munich. I think I speak for all Jews when I say, I can't wait to see what happens to us next! (crossing fingers) Trilogy!
  • The Spook: Avner and the rest of the team become this in order to fulfill the mission.
  • Supreme Chef: The team jokes that Avner is team lead because he can cook a decent brisket.
  • Sweet Tooth: After briefing Avner on his mission, Ephraim offers him a piece of baklava. Avner declines, which Ephraim then says is good because he's already signed away his dental insurance.
  • Swiss Bank Account: Avner is instructed to open these for the mission. He and each of his men gets an account for their accumulated salary, which they'll take at the end of the mission, and another holds $250,000 for operational expenses, which the Mossad will continuously replenish. The accountant sternly tells him to keep the receipts so that they can justify using the unlimited funds.
  • Translation Convention: Presumably in effect, since Israelis are shown speaking English to each other.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The depictions of the Olympic massacre and the assassinations are closely based on historical fact. The rest is either based on "Avner's" memoirs, the accuracy and even authenticity of which are disputed to this day, or is otherwise total fiction.note 
  • Villains Out Shopping: The team tracks their first target as he goes grocery shopping.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: None of the violence in the film is presented as glorious or entertaining. It's often extremely disturbing and sickening. For example, one of the Israeli Olympic team members in the daydream sequence at the start of the film tries to attack the Palestinian terrorists with a knife. One of the terrorists pulls out a Walther P38 and shoots a hole through the Israeli's jaw. The man can only stand, slack-jawed and wide eyed as the hole in his face gushes blood. Of course, this is in line with the film's theme, which is that violence, even violence undertaken out of what you perceive to be righteous anger, is almost always ugly and despicable.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The entire team though they have their doubts about what they do. The same applies to the men they are targeting too.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: One of the more tense scenes has the team stopping a bomb from going off when they hear a young girl answer the phone in the apartment where it's been planted.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Daphna claims "I'm not the hero's nice wife", but that is, in fact, what she is.
  • Younger Than They Look: The actor who plays Wael Zwaiter was nearly 60 when he portrayed him. Wael Zwaiter was 38 when he was killed in 1972.