Munich (Universal Pictures, R)

In a time when great swaths of land are under dispute, this movie touches one of the tragic nerves of our times

At the 1972 Olympics in Berlin, Palestinian terrorists took a group of Israeli athletes hostage and murdered them. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized the formation of covert assassination groups to hunt down all of those responsible for the killings. In the new film Munich, Steven Spielberg explores the story of five of these men as they travel through Europe and beyond, seeking vengeance in the name of their fallen countrymen.

The film is based on the nonfiction book Vengeance by George Jonas, but if you’re expecting a simple tale of retribution in the vein of Man on Fire, you are sure to be disappointed. What MunichThe Hulk). A security guard recruited by none other than Prime Minister Meir (Lynn Cohen) herself, he leaves behind his pregnant wife to embark on a mission that, officially, does not exist. The movie shows Avner, the son of a military hero, evolve from an innocent security guard to a methodical killer to a man haunted by his paranoia, his nightmares, and his conscience. Other members of the team include a toy maker handy with explosives, an antique dealer expert in document counterfeiting, and a self-proclaimed worrier whose job it is to clean up the scene after each assassination; aiding them is the mysterious, Mephisto-like character Louis (Mathieu Amalric), who provides the men, for a hefty price, the whereabouts of the names on their hit list. Each has his designated role to play in the systematic annihilation of their enemies, and as the movie progresses, each responds differently to the horrors of his new life. does offer is a penetrating look at the destructiveness of the principle “an eye for eye,” by following not only the action of the assassins, but also the emotional arc of their leader Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana,

In a time when great swaths of land are under dispute—not only the territorial tug-of-war in Israel, but lands contested from Kurdistan to Tibet to Taiwan—this movie touches one of the tragic nerves of our times. Rather than reducing the conflict to good vs. evil or strong vs. weak, Munich manages to portray a complex issue from the viewpoint of each of its participants, and shows how the characters are affected by their ceaseless struggle to stake claim to a home of their own.

In one scene, Avner, hiding his Israeli identity, converses with a PLO member about the rights of the Jews and the Palestinians. They hold opposing and incompatible views; nevertheless, it’s clear that the two, as they smoke a cigarette in the mild evening air, find a common bond of sympathy and even understanding. A few scenes later, reality reasserts itself, and the men are forced to square off in a deadly gunfight. By showing the heavy toll both sides pay, in mortal wounds inflicted both bodily and psychologically, Vengeance defies us to set aside our assumptions, and to look with fresh eyes at a tragic situation whose end, three decades later, is nowhere in sight.

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