We see reactions from different crowds watching the news, as well as different reporters including Peter Jennings, telling the same story. German security starts moving in but backs off when the leader warns them. Black September changes demands, adding a demand to be moved elsewhere. We see the press packed in outside the stadium frantic for the story. A helicopter arrives to escort them. The news reports that two groups of hostages have been moved. A report goes out that all hostages are safe and we see the change from terror to relief as family members watch the news. An amended report goes out that there was a battle at the airport, all hostages were safe, and the terrorists were all dead from German gunfire. A final corrected report comes out that two hostages were killed in their room, and the remaining nine were killed at the airport. The Olympics pauses to observe the team and the funerals in Israel are predicted to draw tens of thousands of mourners. As the names of the 11 members of the team are called out individually on the news, a man assembles 11 pictures of Arabs, to match the number of Israeli dead.
Avner (Eric Bana) a Mossad agent, watches the news. We see the Mossad and the military meeting with Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) to plan their course of action. The eleven photographs are given as an idea, eleven Arab targets to match the eleven athletes. Meir says "We say to these butchers, if you don't want to share this world with us, then we don't have to share this world with you. There's legitimacy for this am I correct?" One of the military personnel urges against the action, stating that they sent fighter jets to guerrilla training camps leaving more than 60 dead. He state "That's a response." It's argued by others that guerrilla training camps don't get the world's attention. The head Mossad agent, General Zamir (Ami Weinberg) also states that the eleven targets are all responsible in some way for the murders. Meir says she's made a decision saying responsibility is entirely hers, and dismisses the meeting.
A car, containing General Zamir, is sent to pick up Avner and bring him to Jerusalem. Avner seems impressed to see him, telling him that he swore him when he joined Mossad. Zamir doesn't remember but adds, "But of course I knew your father." He's brought before Golda Meir, and they discuss that it's been two years since he worked for her. He's then introduced to General Yariv (Amos Lavi), General Nadav, (Sharon Alexander) and Mike Harari (Mashe Igvy) General Zamir remarks, "The chief of the Mossad,two generals and the prime minister, obviously,it's important. They the inform him that they want to offer him a mission which will be very dangerous, possibly require him to leave the country for years and be unable to discuss it with anyone including his wife. Avener doesn't respond, perhaps stunned by the idea, and one of the Generals says "Now you should say something." He answers "So this isn't about guarding tourists on El Al jets?" laughing although the others are quite serious. Meir mentions that she missed the athlete's funerals because her sister died, which disappointed the world "but family matters." she says. She adds that he was one of her favorite bodyguards as she likes "neat, durable men" He suggests that she liked having the son of a hero around, but she counters that he looks like his mother. Meir asks about his wife, knowing that she's expecting, and Avner tells her that she's seven months along. With that she leaves them,the Generals leave, Zamir talking with Aver before he goes, to tell him "Tomorrow morning. If you can't decide in one day...you can't decide."
With the Generals gone, another man speaks to Avner, informing him that Maeir didn't go to the athlete's funerals because many were angry that she didn't negotiate with Black September, and she didn't want to be booed. "It's good you didn't ask question. You'll say say yes." he says and introduces himself as Avner's case manager Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush)
Avner spends some time in bed with his wife. He makes a comment suggesting he'll be around when the baby is born and she says "Don't worry about it. You won't be around...Will you?" She tells him to make sure whatever it is, to make sure he gets a raise ads she needs things for the baby. Avner tells her "I can't live with refusing this." She smirks and says "Your mother, she knew what she was doing. She abandoned you on that kibbutz.
Avner: She didn't abandon me. My father was missing. He was in prison. She was overwhelmed.
Daphna: Oh yes.
Avner: She did what anybody would do.
Daphna: Yeah, so she took you to the kibbutz and abandoned you. Now you think Israel is your mother.
She tells him she'll "go along with it until she doesn't."
The next morning as part of the mission, Avner has to resign from Mossad, forfeiting medical benefits, pension, and any affiliation, and must take the assignment without a contract. He's instructed to open two bank accounts, one for operating funds, and the other for his salary, which he's not to take until the end of the mission. He's also to open a salary account for each of the men working for him. The operational funds account will contain $250,000.00, which is replenished as it's taken out. Ephraim tells him that they may send messages through the operational account box and he can send them the other way as well although "there shouldn't be any messages." His wife will receive $1,000.00 a month as well.
Ephraim tells him that all eleven names are in Europe. He restates that to them he doesn't exist. He tells him that he can ask questions now if he likes. He learns that he'll have four men and he will be team leader, one of the men can make bombs, which Ephraim states is preferable to shooting. Avner asks why he was chosen, as he's not an experienced field operative. He deduces for himself that the main reason is that he isn't known, and being raised in Frankfurt, knows his way around Europe. Ephraim adds "You're ordinary. You're not a sabra Charles Bronson." His ordinariness leads them to believe he won't "shoot bellhops" or innocent people. He adds "The hard thing will not be finding them. Some of them, anyway, are not so carefully hidden. The hard thing will be not punishing yourselves by getting caught or getting killed."
Avner gets on a plane and we see a flashback of the Olympic scene play out with many of the athlete's getting killed during Black September's takeover of the room. Avner finds the deposit boxes and takes funds before going to meet his team. Avner makes dinner for them and they get acquainted. Steve (Daniel Craig,) the driver, asks if anyone has any experience as he "just joined Mossad 10 days ago" It's revealed that Hans (Hanns Zischler) is a document forger, Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a toymaker, who can make bombs, and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) is an ex soldier. Avner tells them his wife is expecting in a couple months, prompting Robert to ask if they'll be done by then, which Avner doesn't answer. Steve assumes that the mission is to kill one man, Ali Hassan Salameh, who is thought of as the planner of the Munich attack. "We're here to kill the guy that planned Munich, am I right?" Avner again doesn't answer. Carl remarks "It's strange, isn't it, to think of oneself as an assassin." Avner responds, saying "Think of yourself as something else then." They have a nice dinner and seem to enjoy each other's company.
Avner calls a friend, Andreas, who invites him over. Andreas' girlfriend Yvonne is pondering the philosophy of dealing with right and wrong as ethical questions, speaking in German, which doesn't seem to engage either of the men. Avner tells them that he's working for Americans. "Rich Americans?" Andreas asks. Avner shows them $60,000.00 which Yvonne takes. She seems surprised that there's so much money. Avner explains that there are some names of people he needs to find. Yvonne questions Avner again to make sure it's Americans he's working for. He points to a bill and says "See? James Madison." Andreas introduces Avner to Tony (Yvan Attal) to help locate the people. Avner is hesitant to reveal the names, but Tony says "I trust you. You carry cash and you don't make speeches." insisting that he can't help if he doesn't know who he's looking for. Avner names some of the Arabs on the list. Tony tells him he wants $60,000.00 per name, which Avner agrees to if the information is good. Tony tells him that one of men on the list, Wael Zwaiter (Makram Khoury) is in Rome with them. Louis also reveals that Zwaiter is due to give a reading from a poetry translation he'd done, also that he's broke, and calls a niece every day. Tony also tells him he can assist with other details such as cars and supplies. Andreas gets concerned that Avner is "trying to join the PLO." Avner tells him not to speak a word of any of it as he doesn't want him hurt.
Avner's meets with his team and they draw straws, Robert drawing the short straw. Zwaiter is giving a talk to a small group on his reasons for translating "The Thousand and One Nights" into Italian. The team watches him leave when his talk concludes and follows him. Avner and Robert confront him in his apartment building, confirming his identity. Avner asks "Do you know why we're here?" They both nervously shoot him and Steve drives them away. Carl goes to the scene when they're done and "cleans up." removing evidence that would get them caught.
Avner tells Carl that they're celebrating, but Carl isn't interested.
Carl: That old Pesach story. The angels are rejoicing because the Egyptians have just drowned in the Red Sea.
Avner: I didn't say we're rejoicing. I said "We're celebrating."
Carl: And God said to the angels, "Why are you celebrating? I've just killed a multitude of my children."
After Hans tells Avner what it cost them to kill their first target, Avner turns back to Carl and says
"You didn't finish your story. The angels respond to God. They say "God, we're celebrating because when the people hear what happened to the Egyptians they'll understand your point.
Carl: Which was?
Steve: (stepping in) Don't fuck with the Jews.
Avner meets with Tony, who introduces him to Louis (Mathieu Amalric) who tells him that as long as he's not working for any government, he can find him anyone he likes. He tells Avner that his business is "ideologically promiscuous. I love everybody, hate everybody. I get my feelings confused." but reassures him that he only pays if they find someone for him. Avner sticks with his "working for rich Americans" story.
Avner and his team see on the news that terrorists hijacked a plane to arrange the release from the Germans of the three surviving Munich gun men. he Germans agreed and the gunmen were set free in Libya. Seeing the homecoming celebration for the terrorists, Steve remarks "No qualms about rejoicing on their side, eh?" Seeing one of the men interviewed refusing to admit he shoot anyone, Steve suggests they go kill them,but Avner,says they'll stick to the list and they can't go to Arab countries. A reporter asks the gunmen "DO you feel you achieved anything with the Munich operation?" and one of them responds "We have made our voice heard by the world."
To reach their next target, Robert poses as a reporter to interview Mahmoud Hanshari (Yigal Naor) about the Munich attack. Hanshari tells Robert "We are for twenty four years, the world's largest refugee population. Our homes taken from us. Living in camps, no future, no food. Nothing decent for our children.
Robert: And so, was the attack in Munich justified?
Hanshari: The PLO condemns attacks on civilians. Though for 24 years...
Woman: Tell your newspaper that!
Hanshari: ...our civilians have been attacked by the Israelis day after day.
Woman: Tell them about all the years and years of Palestinian blood spilled by Israel. And who mourns for us?
Hanshari: You know Israel just bombed two refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. 200 people killed.Right after Munich they did this.
Woman: It did not begin in Munich. And where does it end? How will it ever end?
Robert tells them he needs to use their phone to call his editor. While the two squabble in French over what they told "the reporter" Robert gets details on the type of telephone, although he's interrupted by a little girl who comes in and plays the piano. The team comes back into the building when no one's around dressed as repairmen and they outfit the phone with an explosive to be set off remotely. Carl questions Avner about what Hamshari did, asking if they showed him evidence in Tel Aviv. Avner tells him he didn't ask for evidence as he believed them. The remote has a red light which comes on when the phone is picked up, and is then to be detonated by turning a key in the device. Avner watches the building from across the street for Hamshari to be at home, while Carl is in a phone booth ready to make the call and the rest of the team sits in the car waiting for the red light. A truck pulls up and Avner is concerned that it might block the signal from the car to the phone. While Avner runs to check on this with Robert, he misses the little girl coming home. Carl dials the phone and the girl picks up, turning the light red. Carl runs to stop the key from being turned getting to the car just in time. They see the girl leave soon after and Carl asks "Are we on or off?" Avner doesn't answer but the phone rings and Hamshari picks up. After confirming that it's he who answers, it blows up., blowing out the window. Hamshari end up in the hospital rather than dying instantly, although he does end up dying from his wounds.
In the news, there's a report of a letter bomb which kills an Israeli in the Israeli embassy in London. He's told it's Black September's doing in reaction to their kills.Avner visits Israel to see his baby born. He tells Daphna he's setting her up in New York so he can see her more while he "does what he's doing." Daphna tells him that Israel is their home. He responds, "You're the only home I ever had." which results in her making fun of him for being corny.
The team soon finds the next target, Hussein Abad al-Chir (Mostefa Djadjam) and they plan to kill him in his hotel room and notice his room is next to Israeli newlyweds.Avner gets a room on the other side of the target. Carl is concerned that the explosive may be too powerful and injure Avner, or the newlyweds. Robert assures them it won't. Avner agrees to switch off his light when he sees Hussein Abad al-Chir get in bed as the signal to detonate the bomb. Avner makes small talk with the target on the balcony. When Avner turns out the light the explosion is much more powerful than planned, injuring the newlyweds as well as Avner. They question Robert about the explosives and he insists that Louis must have given him a different grade than he asked for. The team then questions Avner about trusting Louis, when he has no idea who he is, but Avner defends his loyalty, stating they'd be nowhere without him finding the targets.
Avner asks Louis about the explosives and he insists that he gave them exactly what they asked for. He informs Avner that he's found three targets.Kemal Adwan, Kamal Nasser, and Abu Youssef, all of them in Lebanon. Avner offers to pay him extra for the names which prompts Louis to remind him that the information is not for use by any government. Avner insists that he doesn't work for any government, but Louis tells him "You have no idea who you really work for. You really don't." He tells Avner that if he lies to him he'll be both unreachable and unhappy.The team meets with who tells them that they can't do as it's in the middle east and says they'll have the Army take care of it. Avner. however says they "won't allow it." as Army involvement would cost them Louis' assistance. Ephraim demands to know who Avner's source is. Carl reminds Ephraim that they aren't Mossad and don't work for him. Ephraim isn't happy but agrees to let them do the job, but accompanied by Israeli commandos. Some of the group dresses up in drag and they act like a group of friends out on the town until they get close enough to the target's security to shoot their way in. They storm in the compound and take out the three targets. Avner barely saves a teenager from getting shot and they escape while the remaining forces fire after them.
Avner reconnects with Louis who tells him that "Papa," his boss, would like to meet him. Avner tells Louis he wasn't in Beirut. Louis comments that the Israeli Army was "according to every newspaper on Earth" and finds it hard to believe that Avner stayed away after paying so well for the information. Avner tells Louis he needs to tell his men where he's going. "Louis tells him "You don't know where you're going. And you'll need to wear this." He shows Avner a blindfold. Avner declines saying it's ridiculous but reconsiders as Louis is leaving. When they arrive, the car is surrounded by children. Papa (Michael Lonsdale) is chopping up vegetables and asks Avner to help him cook. Papa asks Avner to show his hands. He comments that his hands are too big to be a master chef and adds "Well, we are tragic men. Butcher's hands, gentle souls."
Papa tells Avner to call him Papa, but Avner refuses saying he can't as he has a papa already. "And you're devoted to him?" Papa asks. Avner asks point blank if he's there because of Beirut. Papa answers "Your Papa must be proud of his son." Papa remarks on picking fruit that there are "so many people to feed..." Avner interjects "but they are your family so you have to feed them." Papa responds "Yes. We don't work with governments.
Avner: Louis said, but...
Papa: But you did what you did because you have to feed your family.
Avner has a meal with Papa's large family. Papa tells him a little of his own background at the table.
Papa: I blew up trains, bridges, trucks full of Germans during the war. My brothers were killed, my papa and my sister were both hanged. She was a young girl.
Daughter: Papa, the guest doesn't want to hear your war stories.
Papa: We paid this price so Vichy scum could be replaced by Gaullist scum and the Nazis could be replaced by Stalin and America. We stay away from governments.
Louis volunteers Avner to say grace and when Papa tells him he doesn't have to, Louis says a prayer, in which he thanks God for "clients who obey the rules." which makes them successful. Papa's family gets upset at Louis's "blasphemy" and Papa interrupts stating he doesn't merely do what he does for the money. Papa states "In my despair, I have fathered madmen, who dress like factory workers. but never do manual labor, who read nonsense and spout pompous bullshit about Algerians and who love nothing, not Algerians or French, or flesh and blood, or anything living. So I have sympathy for a man who can say, "I have a Papa" and who does what he must for his family.
Papa warns him before leaving against future infractions and reminds him that although he could have been Papa's son, he is not family, only business.
Louis drops Avner off, and tells him he has another name. Avner insists he wants Salameh. Louis insists that Salameh is untouchable and offers Zaid Muchassi instead stating that he's in Athens. Avner states that Muchassi is not on their list. Louis tells Avner that he replaced one of the targets that they killed, as Black September's KGB contact, and is much worse than the man he replaced. Avner asks Louis to arrange them a safe house in Athens.
Avner's crew arrives at the Athens safe house, which is a complete dump. Robert makes another bomb with a remote detonator but advises them that he's working with very old and unreliable supplies. The team is surprised later that night when a group of four PLO members show up at their safe house leading to a tense stand off. The team poses as a group revolutionaries from various countries. It comes out that the PLO members also paid a French man for a safe house. They all agree to observe each other's safety. Steve and one of the PLO members squabble over the radio, each changing the others music until Steve compromises by changing the station to one playing Al Green. Avner, and the PLO group leader discuss the Palestinian cause. Ali stating that the Arab countries will aid the Palestinians eventually because although they dislike the Palestinians, they like the Jews less, predicting that Israel will cease to exist.
Avner: This is a dream. You can't take back a country you never had.
Ali: You sound like a Jew.
Avner: Fuck you. I'm the voice inside your head, telling you what you already know. You people have nothing to bargain with. You'll never get the land back. You'll all die old men in refugee camps waiting for Palestine.
Ali: We have a lot of children. They'll have children. So we can wait forever. And if we need to, we can make the whole planet unsafe for Jews.
Avner: You kill Jews, and the world feels bad for them and thinks you are animals.
Ali: Yes. But then the world will see how they've made us into animals. They'll start to ask questions about the conditions in our cages.
Avner: You are Arabs. There are lots of places for Arabs.
Ali: You're a Jew sympathizer. All you Germans, you're too soft on Israel. Well, you give us money, but you feel guilty about Hitler. And the Jews exploit that guilt. My father didn't gas any Jews.
Avner: Tell me something Ali.
Avner: Do you really miss your father's olive trees? DO you honestly think you have to get back all that...that nothing? That chalky soil and stone huts. Is that what you really want for your children?
Ali: It absolutely is. It'll take a hundred years but we'll win. How long did it take the Jews to get their own country?
THey don't come to an agreement and Ali ends the conversation saying "Home is everything."
The team goes to work, placing the bomb in Muchassi's room. Muchassi arrives with several Russians whowait outside as Muchassi goes to his room. Avner tells Robert to trigger the bomb, although Robert is concerned whether Muchassi is alone in his room or not.Avner tells him to trigger it anyway. Robert does but the bomb doesn't work. Everyone is annoyed at yet another bomb problem. Hans gets out of the car and heads into the hotel. Avner attempts to follow but turns around seeing the PLO members from the safe house walking out. Hans throws a grenade at the bomb and shuts the door so Muchassi gets killed.The Russians and PLO members pursue the team, Carl shooting Ali as they get away. Everyone is upset about the latest malfunction and Robert reveals that his training is defusing bombs, not building them.
Louis finally gives Avner Salmameh's location in London, revealing that Salameh has an agreement with the CIA, who pay him for not harming American diplomats. Avner wants to know if the CIA knew about Munich beforehand, but Louis tells him that Munich is the only reason the CIA knows that Black September exists. A news report about another Black September action plays while they talk and Louis remarks that they've been busy since Munich, adding "Europe hasn't been this interesting since Napoleon marched to Moscow."
The team heads to London and starts observing Salameh. He travels with guards constantly. They discuss that since the guards are armed, whether they count as civilians. Carl starts discussing all the bloodshed they've caused and laws they've broken. Hans tells him the discussion is counter productive and Steve needles him saying they should "check that he's circumcised." This cause Carl to lunge at Steve, yelling about the son he lost and all he's done for Israel. Hans suggests that Carl ask to be reassigned "if this is so distasteful." Carl asks " Why, it's not distasteful to you?" Steve answers "No, because the only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood." Steve also remarks to Avner "Nice job leading," prompting Avner to declare that since the guards are armed they kill them too.
They observe Salameh walking with his guards in the rain and approach from different directions, with Steve waiting in the car. As Avner is about to reach Salameh, some Americans stop him, one of them exclaiming that he recognizes him as "Roger Burke." and getting into a small altercation with him, while Salameh walks right past. Later that night, Avner is taken with a woman, Jeanette (Marie-Josee Croze) at their bar, and while clearly finding her attractive he turns down her proposition to go to her room, electing to go to bed alone instead. Leaving her at the bar, he runs into Carl, who is on his way in. Carl and Avner speculate on whether the Americans were CIA. Carl throws out a number of theories and Avner tells him to relax. Each reveals that they didn't think the other would last. Carl tells Avner "If I can't kvetch, I can't do my job." He also tells him "I knew guys like you in the Army. You'll do any terrifying thing you're asked to do, but you have to do it running. You think you can outrun your fears, your doubts. The only thing that scares you guys is stillness. But everyone's overtaken eventually." Carl asks him to join him for a drink,but Avner insists he's going to bed. He warns Carl about "the local honey trap." telling him"You can't miss her.You don't want to." In his room Avner breaks down crying hearing his daughter on the phone.We see another flashback of the Olympic team being escorted to helicopters at the airport by the terrorists,which is cut off when Avner wakes up. He gets up and goes to Carl's room, smelling Jeanette's perfume, he remarks "You asshole, I saw her first." Realizing Carl's door is not completely closed, he lets himself in and finds Carl murdered in his bed.
Louis gives Avner information on Jeanette, telling him she's Dutch and at her house in Holland. Papa accompanies Louis and tells Avner that the information on Jeanette is free of charge, asking if Avner knows why it's free. Avner assumes it's so he'll be sure they were't involved in Jeanette finding his team. He tells Avner "We buy information for you from your enemies. This alerts them. You're not the only people looking for names. Avner responds, "You're telling me I'm being hunted now?" Louis answers "He's telling you, it's time to quit." Louis produces a photograph of Avner, presumably given them by someone trying to locate him. Papa says "Evil falls suddenly. Who can say when it falls?"
The team heads to Holland and finds Jeanette. On the way, Robert questions their mission:
Robert: All this blood comes back to us.
Avner: Eventually it will work. Even if it takes years, we'll beat them.
Robert: We're Jews, Avner. Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong.
Avner: We can't afford to be that decent anymore.
Robert: I don't know that we ever were that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn't make you decent. But we're supposed to be righteous. That's a beautiful thing. That's Jewish. That's what I knew. That's what I was taught. And now I'm losing it, and I lose that, that's everything. That's my soul.
Avner tells Robert to sit this mission out and he'll find him when they need him. Avner, Hans and Steve find Jeanette at home in a bathrobe. They burst into her room and she realizes why they're there. She lets her robe fall slightly, hoping to distract them by exposing her breasts while she tries to subtly reach her pistol. It doesn't help her and they kill her with quiet improvised pipe guns. After she's dead Hans opens her robe to leave her exposed to whoever finds her.
Hans, Steve and Avner sit down for dinner. Hans points out the terrorist attacks that have started since they began their mission, pointing out that everyone they kill is replaced by worse. He questions whether Avner can stop when they finish the list. Hans regrets opening up Jeannette's robe and seems more solemn than usual. Later that night Steve comes to get Avner and tells him that Hans has disappeared. They walk the streets looking for him and eventually find him dead. Avner starts checking everywhere for bombs, including the phone and his mattress. Robert is working on bombs at his house and gets caught in an explosion, leaving only Avner and Steve.
Louis gives Avner Salameh's new location in Spain. Louis assures Avner that he had nothing to do with his troubles as he "pays better than anyone." He reasons that is Avner kills Salameh they'll let him go home and Avner believes he's right. Avner and Steve head to Salameh's heavily guarded compound and observe him with guests through the scopes of their rifles. A teenage guard sees them, and Avner kills him, missing Salameh, so they can escape. Avner is welcomed home by the military, the guards who pick him up tell him they're honored to meet him.
Ephraim debriefs Avner, telling him they have no problem with any of their actions except for Jeanette. Ephraim insists that Avner turn in the information on Louis, but Avner refuses, saying "It's about loyalty." He attempts to threaten Avner with a court martial, but Avner reminds him that he doesn't work for him or even exist. He visits his mother, who tells him she's proud of what he's done. He offers to tell her what he did, but she declines, saying "whatever it takes." to find "a place on Earth." Avner leaves to meet his wife in New York. Ephraim encourages him to take a leave and come back, but Avner just says "No."
Avner has difficulty settling into home life, sitting by himself with his gun,worried that people are looking for him and feeling guilty for the men on his team who died. Walking down the street holding his daughter, he believes a car is following him, although it doesn't threaten him. He calls Papa, who asks if his family is well. He offers to send Avner some cheese and tells him he's glad to hear his voice and thinks about him with concern. He calls Avner by his real name, which surprises Avner. Papa tells him "No harm will come to you from me." Avner thinks about the statement and suspects the Israelis of plotting against him. He heads to the Israeli embassy and tells the official there that he will not hesitate to kill children if they touch his child, and also threatens to tell the newspapers about what he's done. In bed with his wife Avner has another flashback seeing the whole scene where the athletes were slaughtered, which affects him viscerally leaving him in shock. His wife comforts him saying "I love you."
Ephraim comes to New York and sets up a meeting with Avner. He asks Ephraim if he committed murder, and for proof that the men he killed were involved with Munich. Ephraim evades the question and says "If those men lived Israelis die. Whatever doubts you have, you know this is true." He asks Avner "You think you were the only team? It's a big operation. You were only a part. Does that assuage your guilt?"
Avner: Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed has been replaced by worse.
Ephraim: Why cut your fingernails?They'll grow back.
Avner: Did we kill to replace the terrorist leadership, or the Palestinian leadership? You tell me what we've done.
Ephraim: You killed them for the sake of a country you now choose to abandon. The country your mother and father built, that you were born into. You killed them for Munich, for the future, for peace.
Avner: There's no peace at the end of this, no matter what you believe. You know this is true.
Ephraim asks Avner to "come home." Avner counters by asking Ephraim to come over for dinner to "break bread" with him. Ephraim looks at Avner sadly and answers "No." leaving Avner to walk towards home.
Munich is a movie which covers some difficult ground. As anyone who reads the news can tell you, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is very much alive and well today. The brilliance of this movie is that it only tells us the story through the actions of the men in the field, most notably Avner. Questions over who has the moral high ground are passed over in favor of the more immediate question, "Does taking an eye for an eye really accomplish anything?" Spielberg of course knows his craft. He's one of the renowned directors in the world for a reason. Telling the story through Avner's point of view enables us to examine the issue from his limited point of view and our perspective changes when his does.
Avner's team initially has what appears to be a black and white revenge mission. It's easy to sympathize with the cause when all that we know is that terrorists slaughtered the Israeli Olympic team. We see the strong world wide reaction, and growing out of that the rush to take action and send a clear equivalent message. Avner sees his mission as patriotism, and something he can't turn down. It's significant that Avner is "ordinary" and not a killer at all at the start, just a guy who wants to raise his family. The progression from nice guy, family man to jaded counter terrorist is a sensible one given the cause he believes he's working for. He's instructed to work like the terrorists do, not answering to the government, or checking in with Mossad. To anyone watching without a vested interest, Avner's team is as much a terrorist unit as any, "counter terrorism" only indicating that the actions are retaliatory. In someone else's country, such as America, Spain or London, the patriotism justification would presumably be unknown. His team is not sanctioned and "does not exist" If caught they would undoubtedly be tried as terrorists. We see that things are not as simple as they first appeared.
From the beginning, seeing ever amended news reports about the Olympic team's kidnapping, we know that perception can quickly change and can certainly be manipulated. Initial reports that all terrorists were killed by German forces is thrown into question later when Black September demands the release of the surviving members by taking more hostages. This tells us that not only was the media reporting falsely but that in certain circles, the terrorists survival was a known fact.
Patriotism is a long understood justification for terrorism and the question of who is a terrorist depends largely on where your loyalties lie. Those attacking your country are always terrorists to you. They regard themselves, like Avner, as patriots faithful to a greater cause, although this does not make the killing of innocents as an object lesson excusable, it's nonetheless an option entertained by every government.
Steve puts it into focus very well when he says "The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood." While the Israeli team does attempt to limit their killings to their list, incidental damage is unavoidable. Although their damage is not equal to kidnapping innocents and executing them, it does set them on that road. It's not insignificant that their first "unintentional harm" is an Israeli couple who just happen to be in a room too close to the action. When we learn later about Robert's (as well as the rest of the team) inexperience, we can only be amazed that more innocents were not killed. They continue nonetheless, regardless of consequences, they are patriots defending their "home." And, patriotism after all is just a fervent loyalty to "home"
Papa and Louis' organization is pivotal to this story. Their philosophy of not working for any goverment whatsoever is perhaps shown to be the most air tight philosophy of all. Papa has built a "home" in a concrete sense, living on a vast estate surrounded by his entire extended family. He doesn't need to view a country as home, because he has his own home within reach. He points out the difference between loving "flesh and blood" and "an idea" which allows him to sympathize with Avner's loyalty to his own family. The PLO group's leader at the safehouse, Ali, debates Avner along similar lines, although interestingly, Avner ends up arguing along Papa's lines. He tries to point out to Ali, that the bloodshed he calls for is for an idea and not an actual thing, but is unable to reach any agreement. Ali presenting himself as one who knows the importance of home to a people, yet is without one.
If we strip away blind patriotism, we are left with loyalty. We see that Avner's sense of loyalty is a constant, and a need for him, although it changes it's focus as the story progresses. Initially his main loyalty is to Israel, which his wife surmises, he sees as "his mother." In the wake of the brutal terrorist attack it's easy to understand why he responds so strongly. His country has been hurt. Avner, however has other more concrete loyalties, to his team, to his family, and to Louis and Papa. Initially he accepts the list given to him by Ephraim even defending himself to Carl who asks if he saw any proof that the men on the list were really involved in Munich. Avner states he didn't need proof, he just trusted them. But seeing the difference between checking names of a list and killing flesh and blood people, he grows more skeptical amd becomes less loyal to the "ideas" and more loyal to his own people. This is illustrated well by Avner, Steve and Carl undertaking the assassination of Jeanette, an action as direct as their "Munich retaliation" was supposed to be. She killed one of "them" and except for Robert, they have no hesitation to act. It's interesting that Robert chooses this point to have hesitations. The straight forward nature of the action shows him that their mission, even in it's purest form is not "righteous." Undoubtedly he also realizes this about their greater mission as well. His assesment that "Jews don't do wrong because their enemies do wrong" strikes a question mark at the core of their mission. Pointing out that to be a Jew and to be Israeli are not the same thing. Israel is a government, which like any other is primarily interested in continuing it's own existence. To be Jewish, to Robert, is a way of living to aspire to, and to be righteous is greater than to be right.
The fact that each of their targets is replaced immediately by a more dangerous person, and that each of their targets is followed by a more brutal action by Black September is ultimately obvious to them all, although only Steve and Avner live to see this completely. When he asks "Did we accomplish anything?" to Ephraim at the end, we also wonder. Avner suspects that his government used Munich as a motivator to eliminate Palestinian targets, a guess which Ephraim does not deny. Ephraim's response validates Avner's wavering loyalty, and when Ephraim refuses to "break bread" with him, it confirms to Avner that yes, he is a murderer. Ephraim asks him to "Come home." to Israel, but Avner is unmoved. having by now realized that the idea of home is a far different thing than a flesh and blood home.
Spielberg constructs an intricate world, sparing no detail, and while he asks many questions, he wisely avoids handing out any answers other than the smallest ones, of loyalty and betrayal, and the difference between a government and a family. The performances are all masterful, Bana in particular is amazing in showing Avner's progression from an eager Israeli, to a traumatized skeptic watching for danger around every corner. Daniel Craig is great as the steadfast Steve, who doesn't ask deeper questions, content to act out his patriotism. I really enjoyed Ciaran Hinds as Carl, the conscience of the group, who is also the most competent and weathered. The questions are second nature to him, yet not easily entertained by the others. It's fitting that he is the first one killed.
Munich is a world where everyone's actions are justified to themselves. Everyone is fighting for their idea of "Home." which we can't argue is not important. We can conclude that a never ending series of retaliation doesn't seem likely to get anyone any closer to realizing it. At the same time it's difficult to advocate tolerating brutal attacks on your nation. If Avner and his team had proof that their mission was in fact a direct attack at those truly responsible for Munich, we'd have a very different movie. But governments don't always have clear agendas or feel compelled to be forthright other than to further their own interests. The governments reasons no doubt made sense to them, but loyalty to the people enforcing a governments's policies, is not easily won back when lost. Patriotism is an idea, and not a true "home" Avner takes a long way to realizing the difference between the idea of home, and the flesh and blood actuality. To me the overriding theme of Munich is best stated by Carl's story (before Avner "corrected" it)
Carl: That old Pesach story. The angels are rejoicing because the Egyptians have just drowned in the Red Sea.
Avner: I didn't say we're rejoicing. I said "We're celebrating."
Carl: And God said to the angels, "Why are you celebrating? I've just killed a multitude of my children."