I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
-- W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939
Steven Spielberg's Munich begins at the 1972 Olympics, where a group of men hesitate at the locked gates of the Olympic Village. A group of American athletes also approaching the gates laugh – should have gotten back from the beer garden earlier, guys – and then help the men over the gate so they can get into the compound. Once inside, the men take off their athletic jackets, put on ski masks, take AK-47 rifles from their bags, enter the building where Israel's athletes are housed … and enter history.
Munich is not the story of what happened that day – although Spielberg captures the tension and terror of the subsequent siege and deaths like the master craftsman he is. That story has been told – and told superbly – in the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September. Munich is the story of what happened after: how Israel determined that such an affront could not go unpunished, and created a group – a hit squad – to find, and kill, the men responsible. Driven by recent history, many filmmakers and films – including Spielberg's too-swiftly dismissed War of the Worlds – are trying to construct allegories for the realities we now face. With Munich, Spielberg's trying something far riskier, and far more audacious: Turning the real into an allegory. Spielberg doesn't attain greatness here, but the attempt is fascinating to watch.