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Spectator - Spielberg Keeps ‘Munich’ a Secret

by Tom Tugend

July 21, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Steven Spielberg on the Malta set of his film based on the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the subsequent Israeli retaliation in the town of Rabat, outside Valletta.

Steven Spielberg on the Malta set of his film based on the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the subsequent Israeli retaliation in the town of Rabat, outside Valletta.

In an honor-laden career, Steven Spielberg has never played for higher emotional and political stakes than in his upcoming film on the aftermath of the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes by Palestinian Black September terrorists.

The customary secrecy surrounding Spielberg's projects in progress has been tightened to the point that even the film's title is listed only as "Untitled Historical Thriller."

Although some footage of the massacre itself will introduce the film, the focus will be on the subsequent charge to the Mossad by then Prime Minister Golda Meir to hunt down and kill the responsible terrorists.

In the only statement released by his spokesman Marvin Levy, Spielberg said, that "The attack at Munich by Black September and the Israeli response to it was a defining moment in the modern history of the Middle East."

"It is easy to look back at historic events with the benefit of hindsight," he continued. "What's not so easy is to try to see things as they must have looked to people at the time. Viewing Israel's response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms."

"By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic stand-off we find ourselves in today," Spielberg said.

A few basic facts are available about the film now shooting in Malta, with other locations in Budapest and New York. The screenplay is by renowned playwright Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") in his feature film debut.

The international cast is headed by Eric Bana as the lead Mossad agent, and includes David Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ciaran Hinds and Israeli actress Gila Almagor. Universal Pictures will release the film this Dec. 23.

A major concern is that in "Spielberg's Biggest Gamble," as one headline had it, too much emphasis will be given to the doubts of the Mossad agents in their mission.

As historian Michael Oren told the New York Times, "It's become a stereotype, the guilt-ridden Mossad hit man. I don't see Dirty Harry feeling guilt-ridden. Somehow, it's only the Jews."

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