sat 25/05/2024

theartsdesk Olympics: Going back to Spielberg's Munich | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Olympics: Going back to Spielberg's Munich

theartsdesk Olympics: Going back to Spielberg's Munich

Not so much about the Olympics as what vengeance means

Those crazy ol' Mossad dudes up to their gloom-inducing murder antics

When we think of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, we do not think of US swimmer Mark Spitz’s record-breaking seven gold medals, or Finland’s Lasse Virén making his extraordinary comeback from a fall in the 10,000 metres to a record-breaking win. No, the 1972 Olympics will always be remembered for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes (and coaches) by Palestine’s Black September organisation.

Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich takes this act, portrayed in a gripping opening sequence, as its starting point.

Those who wish for a detailed perspective on the events of 5-6 September 1972 are advised to check out Kevin MacDonald’s Oscar-winning 1999 documentary One Day in September. Spielberg’s film is a more tangled beast, its focus not so much on the Munich massacre or its aftermath as the nature of justice under extreme circumstances. It’s a fictionalised version of the Mossad’s covert operation to assassinate those they thought were behind the massacre, starring Eric Bana as the leader with a hit squad that includes James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. What starts as a series of nail-biting international precision killings, gradually descends into a mire of tawdry murder, betrayal and increasingly murky motivation, the pace and mood gloomily slowing as the bitter latter half progresses.

When I went to see Munich in the cinema upon its release I was drawn into the first half’s action but disappointed by the way it wound down into what seemed, at the time, a self-indulgent, turgid, confused conclusion. Having seen it a couple more times since, I've come to appreciate that I missed the point. Munich is a meditation on revenge that ventures it is always wrong but, when served hot and fresh, has spontaneous human purpose – however, when vengeance drags on and on, time erodes its meaning and the darkness at its heart eats all.

And something about the sequence with the Dutch hit-woman cornered on her canal boat remains one of the nastiest in all cinema.

Watch the trailer for Munich

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