Cast & Crew
In the early morning hours of 5 September 1972 at the height of the Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, a group of eight men disguised as competitors arrive at a lightly guarded fence at the Olympic Village. With the assistance of drunken American athletes sneaking back into the village, the men, part of an extremist faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization known as Black September, climb the barrier. Armed with assault rifles and grenades hidden in their sports bags, the men break into a dormitory housing a number of Israeli athletes and after killing two of the resisting Israelis, take nine others hostage. Over the next twenty-three hours, people in the Middle East and all over the world watch the continual television news coverage of the terrorist attack, which ends tragically when the terrorists murder the nine Israelis and German security kills five of the Palestinians. Two weeks later in Jerusalem, General Zvi Zamir, the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, escorts Israeli-born agent Avner Kauffman to a meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir and various ministers. Despite Israel's retaliatory aerial and ground strikes against P.L.O. guerrilla bases on the Syrian and Lebanese borders, Zamir informs Avner that the prime minister has approved an additional clandestine operation to track down the Black September instigators of the Munich attack. Avner, Meir's former bodyguard, agrees to consider participating in the mission, even though he has no experience as a field agent and knows he has been chosen because he grew up partially in Europe, prompting Meir to declare that Avner reminds her of his war-hero father. Avner is then left with Ephraim, his case handler, who informs him that he will lead four pre-selected agents to locate, track and murder eleven Palestinians known to have contributed to the Munich plot. Ephraim explains that as the Israeli government will have no official connection to the mission, Avner must officially resign from Mossad. Avner is advised that the team must work exclusively in Western Europe and will be provided salaries and funding in U.S. dollars deposited in Swiss bank safe-deposit boxes. Later, Avner tells his pregnant wife Daphna that he has accepted a secret government assignment that will take him away for several months. A few days later in Geneva, Avner meets his team members: Belgian toymaker and explosives specialist Robert; South Afrikaner car expert Steve; older, stoic German "cleanup" man Carl Habibi and antique dealer Hans, in charge of documents and accounting. The following week, the team begins their mission in Rome using information provided by Avner's old school friend Andreas and his associate Tony. After stalking and killing former Black September member Wael Zwaiter, a Palestinian translator, Avner and the others travel to Paris. There, Tony puts Avner in contact with Louis, a mysterious underground informer who, for sizeable payments, provides location information on anyone with the stipulation that no governments are involved in the exchange. The men are then shocked to hear the news that the hijacking of a German Lufthansa jet has resulted in the release of the three surviving Black September members involved in the Munich attack. Galvanized, the team focuses on their next target, Mahmoud Hamshari, the French representative of Black September. After a lengthy and careful setup that provides the team with details of the apartment Hamshari shares with his wife and young daughter, the men place an explosive in Hamshari's telephone that will be detonated manually after a team member calls. On the day of the strike, however, the operation is abruptly aborted when Hamshari's daughter unexpectedly returns home and answers the booby-trapped phone. The mission proceeds later when Hamshari is alone, but when the explosion does not immediately kill him, Robert is disturbed. Hamshari dies days later, while Avner takes a quick, unauthorized trip to Israel to visit Daphna, who gives birth to their daughter. Knowing it will be difficult to return to Israel again, Avner asks Daphna if she would consent to relocate to New York City, and although she is disappointed to remain alone in a strange country, Daphna agrees. On information again provided by Louis, the team reunites in Nicosia, Cyprus where their target is Hussein Abad Al-Chir, a P.L.O. organizer and liaison to the Soviet K.G.B. Promising more accurate results, Robert devises an explosive that is hidden in Abad Al-Chir's hotel mattress to be detonated after a signal from Avner in the room next door. The resulting blast is enormous, breaking through to Avner, who escapes uninjured with Carl's help. Later, under questioning, Robert insists the plastic explosive was a higher grade than requested and reveals the material was provided by Louis, prompting the group to grow suspicious of their shadowy contact. Nevertheless, when the Frenchman subsequently provides information that three names on the target list are in Beirut, Avner seeks approval for the hit through Ephraim. Angered when Avner refuses to reveal his source's identity, Ephraim nevertheless reluctantly approves the attack, even though he had earlier told Avner that he could go after targets in Europe only. The men join a larger Israeli commando force in a fierce assault against the Lebanese P.L.O. stronghold where targets Kamal Nasser, Kemal Adwan and Abu Youssuf are killed with many others. Some days later, the team regroups back in Paris, where Louis takes Avner to a spacious country farmhouse to meet the leader of his organization, his father, who is known to Avner only as "Papa." At a large family afternoon meal, Papa tells Avner that since his involvement in the French Resistance during World War II, he has been distrustful of all governments. Papa states he will overlook Avner leaking the terrorists' Beirut location to Israeli officials but cautions Avner not to involve any government again. Back in Paris, Avner demands that Louis provide the whereabouts of Ali Hassan Salameh, a well-known, high-ranking Palestinian, designated as the creator of the Munich plot. Insisting that Salameh is too difficult a target, Louis instead provides Zaid Muchassi, the replacement for Abad Al-Chir in Athens. Although Muchassi is not on the list, Avner decides to target him, which prompts unease among the team. On the team's first night in the Athen's safe house recommended by Louis, they are stunned when a group of Palestinians arrive to use the same hideout, forcing Avner's team to hastily identify themselves as members of the extremist Red Army Faction of the German underground. While smoking outside, Avner speaks Arabic with a Palestinian, Ali, who expresses his confidence that one day his people will have a nation and a homeland of their own. The next day, using dated explosive material provided by Louis, Robert places a bomb inside the television in Muchassi's hotel room. In the early morning, Muchassi returns to his hotel escorted by a number of Russians and, to Avner's surprise, Ali and the Palestinians. Upon receiving the signal that Muchassi has retired alone to his room, Robert activates the remote control detonator but there is no explosion. After several attempts fail, Hans rushes into the hotel and, breaking down the victim's door, hurls more bombs at the television, setting off the original explosives. After helping Hans out of the hotel, Avner and the others engage in a brief gunfight with the Russians and the Palestinians in which Ali is killed. The team members panic upon realizing they have also killed a Soviet agent and wonder about repercussions. Later, Robert and Steve complain that Louis may be sabotaging their efforts. Although uncertain, Avner agrees to pay Louis well when the Frenchman reveals that Salameh is in London meeting with American C.I.A. agents for whom he provides information. In London, Avner and the men stalk the well-guarded Salameh and decide to make a risky street attack. That night as Avner, Steve and Robert move in on their target, however, a group of drunken Americans swarm around them, mistaking them for former acquaintances. In the ensuing confusion, Salameh disappears. Afterward, the frustrated team speculates that the "drunk" Americans were C.I.A. agents protecting Salameh. Back at the hotel an unsettled Avner sits at the bar, where an attractive young woman flirts with him. On his way to his room later, Avner runs into Carl and playfully tells him about the woman at the bar. With several months having passed since Avner has seen Daphna, he telephones her and is moved to tears when he hears his baby daughter already able to speak. Disturbed, Avner returns to the bar, but unable to find Carl, returns upstairs where he smells the woman's distinctive perfume. Amused and abruptly concerned, Avner goes to Carl's room and finds his partner shot to death in bed. Seeking assistance from Papa and Louis, Avner learns that the woman in the hotel is Jeanette, a well-known Dutch assassin. Louis suggests that the team's killing a Russian has now made them targets, but Avner resolves to go after Jeanette. Robert protests, insisting that despite the retaliatory nature of their mission, Jews are meant to be "righteous." Without consulting Ephraim, Avner, Steve and Hans proceed to Hoorn, Holland where they locate and kill Jeanette on her private houseboat. Back on the continent during a lull when no intelligence is forthcoming, Avner grows increasingly anxious, checking and rechecking his surroundings for fear that he has become a target. His paranoia grows when in Frankfurt, Hans goes missing and is later discovered knifed to death on a park bench. Fearful that Papa and Louis may have betrayed them, Avner decides the remaining team members should lay low for a period, but soon after learns that Robert has accidentally blown himself up in Belgium while fashioning a new bomb. Distraught, Avner confronts Louis for assurance that Robert was not murdered, and swearing that he has not given them up, Louis then directs Avner to Spain, where Salameh is attending a large political gathering. Avner and Steve proceed there alone and successfully breach the fence of the well-defended Palestinian compound. Upon being discovered by an armed teenager, the pair just manage to escape in a hail of gunfire. Later the men are picked up by Israeli soldiers and, in Tel Aviv at a debriefing, Steve tells Ephraim of their suspicions about Papa and Louis, but Avner refuses to reveal further details about their identity or how to contact them. With the mission now officially terminated, Avner visits his mother, who insists that constant world persecution of Jews justifies all actions taken to defend Israel. Avner returns to Brooklyn, where, despite his happiness at being with Daphna and their daughter, he is overcome with thoughts of the Munich massacre and his two-year mission of vengeance. Obsessed with the thought that he and his family are now being targeted, Avner contacts Papa who promises Avner no harm will come from him. Avner's subsequent visit to the Israeli consul demanding to know if he is being hunted results in a visit from Ephraim. Needing assurance that the mission was legitimate, Avner insists on proof that the Palestinians killed were indeed connected to the Olympic murders. Ephraim dismisses Avner's distress and reveals that Avner's team was only one of several sent on the same mission. Ephraim criticizes Avner for remaining in New York, accusing him of abandoning Israel, but when Avner attempts to make amends by inviting him to dinner, Ephraim refuses. Alone, Avner returns home.
Valéria Bruni Tedeschi
Sharon Cohen Alexander
Makram J. Khoury
B. Jan Daneshmand
Robert John Burke
David Ali Hamade
Felicite Du Jeu
Mordechai Ben Shachar
Yaron Josef Motolla
Karen A. Brocco
Yvonne Zarb Cousin
Susan De Crescent
Chris De Titta
George De Titta Jr.
Ahmed El Shair
Edward "duke" Ellington
Lisa Jean Felski
Flashback Film Productions Ltd.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The working title for the film was Vengeance. Only the company credits, title and prologue appear before the film; all other credits are at the end. The following written prologue appears in the opening onscreen credits: "Inspired by real events." There are numerous misspellings and inconsistencies in the cast and crew names and some character names in the onscreen credits. The closing credits state that Munich was filmed with the support of financial incentives provided by the Government of Malta, and Hungarian sponsorship was provided by the Bank of Budapest.
The film opens with the arrival of Black September, an extremist Palestinian group, at the Olympic Village, the dormitory break-in and killing of two Israeli athletes, then proceeds to follow the course of the attack through television news reports. The actual details of the event are shown sporadically throughout the film, with the death of the nine Israeli hostages shown near the end of the film. The film's final shot of the New York City skyline featured the World Trade Center Twin Towers, which were destroyed in the September 2001 terrorist attack.
An April 2004 New York Times article announced director Steven Spielberg's intention to begin production on Munich in June 2004. Munich was the first feature film script by playwright Tony Kushner, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America and its HBO television adaptation. Spielberg's son Theo served as a production assistant on the film and his daughter Sasha appeared in a bit role. The April 2004 New York Times article listed Ben Kingsley as a possible star, but he was not in the film. Some online sources add the following actors to the cast: Mosko Alkalai, Lili Bordán, Arthur Chazal, Marcus Collins, Greg D'Agostino, Fran Labbe, Arnaud Marciszewer, George Mendel, Ben O'Brien, Dov Reiser, Eva Röse, Jean Smart and Guy Zoaretz. Munich was filmed in Malta, Paris, Hungary and New York and completed principal photography in October 2005 for a December 2005 release.
Munich had a lengthy pre-production history. According to an December 18, 2005 Los Angeles Times feature article, in the late 1990s producer Barry Mendel purchased the rights to George Jonas' 1984 book Vengeance, which detailed the clandestine Israeli response to the murder of eleven of its athletes competing in the XX Olympiad in Munich, West Germany in September 1972. In 1986 the book had been produced as a highly praised, HBO cable television movie, Sword of Gideon, starring Steven Bauer and Michael York and directed by Michael Anderson. Mendel brought the property to producer Kathleen Kennedy, who commissioned three successive scripts. Janet and David Peoples wrote the initial draft and Eric Roth worked on numerous drafts, according to an December 18, 2005 Los Angeles Times article. According to an earlier December 4, 2005 Los Angeles Times article, Charles Randolph contributed a polish of the Roth script, before Kushner began working on it. The December 18, 2005 Los Angeles Times piece stated that Randolph had written a complete draft of Munich. A December 12, 2005 Time feature article on the film does not mention the contributions of either Randolph or Roth, the latter of whom received screen credit beneath Kushner. Both Time and the December 18, 2005 Los Angeles Times article stated that Kushner's initial draft was over 300 pages in length.
According to the Time article, Kennedy, a frequent production partner with Spielberg, proposed the project to the director, but Spielberg expressed uneasiness over taking on a project about the difficult and emotionally volatile politics of the Middle East. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, according to the Los Angeles Times piece, Spielberg shied further away from the material as potentially exploitative. He remained interested in the project, however, and after discussing the script with playwright Kushner, decided to commit to the production. Spielberg purportedly was impressed by Kushner's input on the production, partially because of Kushner's involvement with the editing of a book on the American view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Numerous articles on Munich noted that Vengeance met with controversy from the time of its publication, with its veracity coming under question. A July 2005 Variety article quoted a former Mossad (Israeli Intelligence Agency) agent as describing the Jonas book as "nonsense, totally baseless." The former agent did not dispute the mission itself, but rather the portrayal of the agents and the manner in which the operations were conducted. A July 2005 The Times (London) article stated another criticism of the book was that the Mossad agent who was the basis for "Avner Kauffman" was actually only an El Al airlines security guard. Both Vengance and the film mention that Avner's Mossad work included time as an airline security agent. The December 18, 2005 Los Angeles Times article on Munich indicated that press accounts widely assumed Avner was based on Israeli security expert Yuval Aviv, whom Jonas, in a legal dispute over the book's rights, described as a "key source" for Vengeance. Spielberg and Kushner recounted meeting the "real agent" described in the book, but refused to identify him. Spielberg's spokesman mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article that much of the controversy surrounding the book stemmed from the fact that Israel has never formally admitted that Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized assassination squads to retaliate for the Munich massacre.
Other articles and sources noted that the main discrepancy of Jonas' book is its evasion of the fact that the Palestinians killed by the special unit from 1972 to 1974 were low-level Black September members not directly linked to the Munich attack. The Variety article quoted Spielberg as stating that Vengeance was only one source used for the script's development. Although Spielberg showed the completed script to various political experts, several articles quoted former Mossad head Zvi Zamir (who is depicted in Munich) and Abu Daoud, the Palestinian generally credited as one of the masterminds behind the Munich attack and a co-founder of Black September, as complaining about not being consulted during the script's development.
Munich details the massacre that occurred at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when eleven Israeli athletes were attacked in their dormitory apartments by members of Black September. Two Israeli athletes were initially killed in the dormitory and the other nine held hostage for nearly a day. The athletes, five members of Black September and a German policeman died at the Fürstenfeldbruck military airfield during a botched rescue attempt by German security.
Black September has been defined as an offshoot of the Fatah (a reverse acronym for the Palestine Liberation Movement or "conquest") movement of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a multi-party federation dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Black September was formed in 1970 as a response to the violent expulsion from Jordan of Palestinian refugees by King Hussein. Although Black September was originally a small group of fedayeen (one ready to sacrifice his life for a cause) out to seek revenge on Jordan, their objectives soon focused on the Palestinian situation and the group participated in numerous international political assassinations and airplane hijackings from 1971 to 1973.
The group's best known operation was the attack against the Israeli athletes in Munich. Black September was disbanded in 1973 by the P.L.O. when leader Yasser Arafat declared it would restrict attacks to Israel and the territories occupied by the 1967 6-Day War. Black September's unprecedented attack at Munich, highlighted by worldwide television coverage, has been cited by many experts as a major turning point in international terrorism.
Portions of the opening sequences in Munich use the actual coverage by America's ABC television network, which broadcast the Olympic Games. The film shows the iconic moment when popular ABC sportscaster Jim McKay received notification of the Israeli athletes' deaths, and stated, "They're all gone." Spielberg duplicated other well-known televised moments from the 23-hour ordeal, such as that of a masked terrorist cautiously stepping out onto the balcony of one of the dormitory apartments. The voices of ABC reporters Howard Cosell (1918-1995) and Peter Jennings (1938-2005) are also heard throughout the opening sequences of Munich.
As mentioned in the film and confirmed in various historical sources, just three days after the Munich assault, Israel retaliated with a massive military air strike against ten P.L.O. bases just inside Syria and Lebanon. Another strike took place a week later. As noted in historical sources, despite the ferocity of these attacks, many within the Israeli government felt the brutality of the Munich attack warranted a still stronger response. Prominent among those was Mossad head Zamir, who had flown to Munich during the crisis. Although Israel already had a covert anti-terrorist unit designated Caesarea, within ten days of Munich, Prime Minister Meir authorized a plan to eliminate "terror operatives" through a series of assassinations aimed at the leaders and plotters of Fatah and Black September. The plan, mentioned in many contemporary sources, was dubbed "Wrath of God," which is not referred to by name in Munich. The head of the mission was the commander of Caesarea, Martin Harari, depicted briefly in the film as one of the important security figures at Meir's home. According to historical documents on the Olympic attack and its aftermath released years after Vengeance, Harari personally oversaw three assassination teams that comprised "Wrath of God." These same sources note the fact, not mentioned in Munich, that each strike had to have the prime minister's approval and, although the strikes May have been discussed with cabinet members, the decision to proceed in each case was Meir's alone in the first two years of the operation. Although Vengeance and Munich suggest that the retaliatory mission against those who plotted the Olympic attack ended by late 1973 or early 1974, other historical sources confirm that in reality it continued until 1992, with each succeeding Israeli prime minister signing off on approved targets.
As mentioned in the movie, just weeks after Munich, Israel was stunned by the release of the three surviving Black September members, who were being held by German security. The men were freed as part of an agreement with a faction of the P.L.O. after the hijacking of a Lufthansa airplane (carrying only thirteen passengers). Years later, inquiries suggested that the hijacking was coordinated in advance between Palestinians and Germany, which was uncomfortable holding the Black September members and fearful of further terrorist attacks on its soil. After the release of the Palestinians, no acts of terrorism occurred in West Germany until the late 1980s. Of the three survivors, two were eventually killed by "Wrath of God" agents and one remains alive in hiding. The surviving member participated (appearing in shadow) in the 1999 Academy Award-winning documentary on the attack, One Day in September, directed by Kevin McDonald.
Scenes in Munich suggest that Avner relays vital information to his superiors provided by French contact "Louis" about the location of three top-level Fatah officers in Beirut. Modern historical sources do not support the assumption that any Mossad agent working in the field provided such intelligence. The strike, designated operation "Spring of Youth," is most remembered as the mission in which future Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak disguised himself as a woman to lead the attack, which is depicted in the film.
The strikes as shown in Munich are generally accurate in their depiction. Although several men contributed to the design of the Munich attack, as stated in Munich, the head of Black September operations and a close associate of Arafat was Ali Hassan Salameh, nicknamed the "Red Prince." Not shown in Munich was a 1973 bungled attempted assassination strike on Salameh by Israeli agents in Lillehammer, Norway which resulted in the killing of a Moroccan waiter, mistaken for Salameh. The last attempted targeting of Salameh shown in Munich, where Avner and "Steve" pursue Salameh to Spain, is completely fictitious. As noted in the film's conclusion, Salameh was killed in January 1979 by a car bomb planted by Israeli agents.
Several articles noted that Spielberg initially intended to release Munich with little to no publicity, including personal interviews. Two weeks prior to the film's release, however, the lengthy Time magazine cover story was published, in which Spielberg described Munich as his "prayer for peace." Immediately afterward, criticism of the film by some prominent Jewish leaders focused on Spielberg's possible suggestion that the killings of the Israelis and the subsequent murders of the Palestinians were morally comparable. A December 9, 2005 New York Times article quoted the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles as stating that the film's implication that Israel's response to the Olympic massacre had caused an escalation in terror was "pure fiction."
Due to the potential controversy generated by these responses, Spielberg gave a lengthy interview to Los Angeles Times, which was incorporated into the paper's December 18, 2005 "Calendar" feature piece. A December 20, 2005 Daily Variety article described the director's attempts to screen the film for the current chief of Mossad and other agents who worked for the agency during the early 1970s. Producer Kennedy arranged a screening of the film for two widows of Israeli athletes killed in Munich. The women expressed relief that Israel's mistaken murder in Lillehammer was not depicted and that Israel's reputation was not dishonored. Reviews of the film were mixed, some praising its dramatic merits, and others expressing frustration with what they viewed as Spielberg's "naïve" political message.
Munich was selected by AFI as one of the ten Movies of the Year for 2005. The film received five Academy Award nominations, for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Original Score. The film also received Golden Globe nominations for Spielberg for Best Director and Kushner for Best Screenplay. Spielberg was nominated by the Directors Guild for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2005.
Winner of two 2005 awards including Best Film and Best Director by the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA).
Released in United States Winter December 23, 2005
Released in United States on Video May 9, 2006
Ben Kingsley was previously attached to star, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts which arose when principle photography was delayed from late-Spring 2004 so that Spielberg could put final touches on "The Terminal" (2004).
Originally scripted by Eric Roth.
Initial re-write was done by Charles Randolph.
Principle photography was further delayed from July 2004 for rewrites and out of security concerns. Spielberg decided to helm "War of the Worlds" for Paramount/DreamWorks, thus pushing the start date once again to June 2005.
In 2005, the Producers Guild of America denied Colin Wilson an official producer credit, claiming he did not fulfill enough job duties to qualify for the title.
Released in United States Winter December 23, 2005
Released in United States on Video May 9, 2006
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2005 by the American Film Institute (AFI).