An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                Director Steven Spielberg has a message and it’s this:  “Home is everything.”  Underlying every frame of “Munich” is the tortured desire of both the Israelis and the Palestinians for a homeland where they can belong and live among their own. 

                The trigger for this unsettling movie is the murder of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team in Munich in 1972.  Broadcast live by anchorman Jim McKay who handed off frequently to Peter Jennings and Howard Cosell, the images of the black-hooded Palestinian terrorists remain locked in the minds of anyone who watched it.  The broadcast was further proof that pictures, more than words, would crash forever into American homes with greater impact than a story in the morning newspaper. 

                Golda Meier summons Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), a Massad officer, to a meeting in the presence of three generals, the prime minister, and the head of Massad.  Avner will lead the team that will exact vengeance, one at a time, until all the attackers are dead.  Thus does Mr. Spielberg telegraph the plot of his long movie.  This will be one bloody murder after another, and by the time it is over, despair engulfs us.  Will a solution ever be able to transcend passions born of centuries of hatred?  

                Avner, after leaving his lovely pregnant wife (Ayelet Zurer) “for up to three years,” is given a team.  Though we never get to know them, we know they are a toymaker turned bomb crafter, an antiques specialist, an agent runner.  This is not a team of experts; each is an anonymous man from another life with unquestionable loyalty to Israel.  From that moment they will never know the true identify of anyone in the operation.  Avner is cast adrift - no identity, no contact with Israel or family.  He has only an endless supply of murder money in safe deposit boxes.  Trust goes to the man who “carries cash and doesn’t make speeches.”

                The strongest part of all this violence is the interplay between Avner and the French family who sells him information.  We are intrigued by Louis (Mathieu Amalric), who seems capable of treachery and his father (Michael Lonsdale), who doesn’t.  Part of the problem here is that the world of espionage never gives many clues to the character of its operatives, but as an audience, we yearn for more. 

                The goal of the Palestinians in the slaughter of the innocents?  To make their collective voice heard by a world that has never before listened.  And of the Israelis?  Vengeance.  As Avner learns not to trust anyone, he realizes he cannot trust himself. He has sunk into the agent’s fate:  no one will help him, and he cannot help himself.  He belongs nowhere.  Finally alone with bloody hands in a world of “intersecting secrecies,” he knows he has become a target.   He understands also the truth of 1972 and 2005 – that “Every man we kill is replaced by someone worse.”


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