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Laramie Movie Scope: Munich

The wages of revenge

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 28, 2006 -- “Munich” is an uneven but powerful film about a band of assassins who target the Palestinian Black September terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games in 1972. The assassins at first are convinced they are right to kill the terrorists, but one by one they begin to have doubts about the wisdom of their actions.

The killings take a toll on all of them in more ways than one. Eric Bana gives a great performance as the tormented assassin Avner who fears he and his family may have become targets of the very terrorist organization he has been targeting. A scene where Avner is afraid to sleep in his own bed is reminiscent of the classic paranoia scene in the 1970's Gene Hackman film, “The Conversation.” Avner is the head of a small cell of assassins, one of several commissioned by the Israeli government to kill those who planned the Munich massacre. The missions were part of “Operation Wrath of God.” The cell is funded secretly so there are no direct ties to the Israeli government. Other members of the cell are getaway driver Steve (Daniel Craig of “Layer Cake”), cleanup man Carl (Ciarán Hinds of “Calendar Girls”), explosives expert Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz of “Jacob the Liar”) and document forger Hans (Hanns Zischler of “Undercover”).

The cell gets its target list indirectly from Israeli spy agency Mossad, but finds a mysterious French organization headed by Papa (Michael Lonsdale of “Ronin”) which is able to locate the people on the assassination list. Papa has a strict rule about not dealing with governments, but he develops and unusual level of trust with Avner. After a time, however, Avner begins to wonder if Papa is providing information to his enemies about his assassination cell. In one tense scene, the assassination cell and a group of Palestinian terrorists share the same “safe house.” They forge an uneasy truce and each side learns something of the others' point of view.

The most interesting thing about the film, however, is the way it questions the wisdom of revenge missions like this one. It is true that “Operation Wrath of God” resulted in killing at least 13 people, and probably some of those really did plan the Munich operation. The assassinations, however, cost millions of dollars and resulted in the deaths of more Israelis than were killed in Munich in the first place. From the standpoint of cost in terms of money and human life, the assassinations don't make sense. From an ethical standpoint, revenge makes even less sense. Everything from war, to surgical military strikes, to targeted assassinations to capital punishment leads not to a decrease in killing but an increase. Killing, no matter how much it is justified or sanctioned by law, leads to more killing. It cheapens the value of human life.

In the end Avner is driven almost mad by the assassinations and the reprisals by the Palestinians. He can find no rest, no safety. He does not know who to trust. It is a perfect example of the personal cost of revenge. The movie suggests that most people don't directly bear the cost of revenge. The five-man assassination cells, their family and friends bore the full cost of a nation's misguided policy of revenge, but few others bore that cost. It is much the same in the Iraq war, a war of revenge. Only the soldiers and their families bear the full cost of the war. The rest of us bear only indirect costs, including trillions of dollars of debt. This is a thought-provoking, powerful film about the costs of revenge. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)