Spy 100, #12: Munich

In an often-grim genre, Munich (2005) may well be one of the grimmest films yet. Based on actual events, Steven Spielberg’s high-profile spy drama revolves around the tragic kidnapping and murder of nine Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany. That shocking incident leads Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, to launch a retaliatory counterstrike against the Arab terrorists who carried out the atrocity. To lead the team is Avner (Eric Bana), an unlikely choice for a globe-trotting assassin, which is exactly the point, since they want him completely deniable. His mission is so black ops that he has to resign from the Mossad in order to undertake it. But once he goes dark, he and his colleagues carry out their vicious, methodical revenge, only to find complications at every turn, and drastic consequences for every crossroads decision.

Munich is impeccably crafted, full of impressive period detail and artfully executed suspense and action set pieces. It’s a powerful cautionary tale about how revenge can escalate from the notion of a simple exchange to a complicated skein of never-ending violence. Bana, an actor who usually strikes me as inexpressive, does a good job with his conflicted character, and he’s supported well, most notably by his teammates Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Hanns Zischler. It’s not an easy watch, nor is it a cheerful one, but as a realistic deglamorization of the spy business, particularly as it pertains to the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, it’s a powerful and harrowing vision.

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