Never before has a film affected me as much as this. This film is proof of how powerful cinema can be and how important it is that films such as this are made. I did not go into the cinema expecting this to be an easy ride, but I did not expect it to be as difficult as it turned out to be.
The film deals with the aftermath of the massacre of 9 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. That massacre is a well-known event, whereas the covert and bloody aftermath is not. The film is presented as being ‘inspired by real events’ and is based on the book ‘Vengeance’ by George Jonas. While certain creative liberties may or may not have been taken in the film and in the material it is based on, the film is still a harrowing portrayal of the nature of terrorism.
The film follows Avner (Eric Bana) as he is chosen to lead a select group of men to kill 11 men believed to have been responsible for the planning of the massacre at Munich. What begins as a taut thriller soon becomes something far surpassing the boundaries of genre. It soon unfurls its true colours as things spiral out of control and Avner begins to question his own motives and the motives of those who gave him this mission.
The group consists of ordinary men – a toymaker, an antiques dealer – and each has his own motives for joining as well as his own doubts. The acting is superb all round, but Eric Bana truly shines as Avner. We see him descend from eager soldier to the mere shell of a man, haunted by what he has done. I am truly surprised that he has not received any nominations in the recent flurry of awards, as his performance is astounding.
Along with a fine cast, the script is beautifully written, making us believe that these are people we are watching on the screen, not characters. The dialogue is engaging and even during some of the longer speeches it never becomes laboured or false. In portraying the story there are no ‘good guys’ and no ‘bad guys’. Although we are mainly given the Israeli perspective, they are not portrayed as heroes, and neither are their opponents portrayed as villains. Whereas we begin with Avner as a typical leading man, by the end we glimpse the opposite end of the gun, when he himself becomes a target.
The violence of the film is graphic, but not gratuitously so. The more action-orientated scenes are handled with great adroitness, adding to the emotional impact of the story. We see the team’s targets eliminated, one by one, and we see the toll it slowly takes on Avner. Even when he leaves the mission and returns to his wife and baby daughter he cannot escape the horror of his actions and the actions of others. For every man he kills, there is a replacement.
This is one of the strongest messages of the film – the pointlessness of it all. The killing leads to more killing, which leads to more still. One scene which has stayed in my mind the most is that of Avner telling one of the men at his command not kill a young boy who has just seen his parents killed by the raiding soldiers. Avner may have saved the boy’s life, but that boy is just as likely to grow up hating men like Avner and perhaps even becoming a terrorist himself. Violence begets violence, an eye for an eye – and yet the world never seems to learn.
Steven Spielberg’s direction is flawless in this film. From askew camera angles to clever cross-cutting of scenes, all is executed with precision. One of the most harrowing sequences is the encounter with another assassin, possibly one of the coldest moments of the film as Avner’s mission goes from professional to personal. Speilberg would be fully deserving of the Oscar, should he win the award. Spielberg has once again teamed up with John Williams to provide the music, who as usual delivers a haunting and beautiful score.
The final scene of the film is between Avner and his previous ‘employer’, in New York. In the background we see the skyline, with the Twin Towers standing proudly in the middle. The film ends with this skyline, reminding us of how starkly topical this film is, though it is set in the 1970’s. This film is an eye-opener, a kick in the gut. I would urge everyone to see this film, because although it is deeply difficult, it is also tremendously important.