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Munich Reviews

The thorny heart of Steven Spielberg's sober, fact-based political thriller about Israeli retaliation for the murder of 11 Olympic athletes by Palestinian terrorists is the knowledge that vengeance is a self-perpetuating murder machine that drags successive generations into a mire of tit-for-tat bloodshed. It opens at the 1972 Munich Games, where the mere presence of Jewish competitors at the first German-hosted Olympics since 1936 is freighted with historical significance. But it unfolds in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 5, when eight terrorists took nine members of Israel's team hostage, killing two others in the process; 24 hours later, all the hostages were dead. As the events are endlessly replayed and analyzed in the press, the Israeli government quietly assembles a covert five-man team to avenge the attack and send an unequivocal message that Israel will not sit back and be terrorized. The team's unlikely leader is Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), a loyal Mossad employee with no experience in field assassination but the advantage of having grown up in Europe, where the operation will be based. Avner and his crew — Israeli bomb-maker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) and cleanup specialist Carl (Ciaran Hinds), Australian hit man Steve (Daniel Craig) and Dutch forger Hans (Hanns Zischler) — will be paid through untraceable safe-deposit boxes and must sever ties with family and friends; should anything go wrong, the government will disavow any knowledge of their actions. The "Mission: Impossible" dissipates quickly; Spielberg and screenwriters Eric Roth and Pulitzer prize-winner Tony Kushner mute the superspy machinations in favor of examining the mission's personal and political ramifications. Thrust into a shadow world of international espionage in which affiliations are unclear and loyalties mutable, Avner and his team rub shoulders with men whose politics are the opposite of theirs, but whose tactics and ultimate goals are uncomfortably similar. As they become a more efficient hit squad, they fall prey to the paranoia that comes with knowing how infinitely possible it is to die by a bomb hidden in your telephone or bed. They're increasingly troubled that they've never seen a shred of evidence that their 11 targets had anything to do with the Munich massacre (is it mere coincidence that there's one for each dead Israeli?) and by the fact that every successful assassination triggers a retaliatory act of terror. Adapted from George Jonas' controversial 1984 Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team (previously filmed for HBO as 1987's SWORD OF GIDEON), MUNICH was taken to task for not imposing black and white judgments on an agonizingly gray situation.