After Black September's assassination of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir okays a covert operation to hunt down and kill all involved. A team of five gathers in Switzerland led by Avner, a low-level Mossad techie whose father was a war hero and whose wife is pregnant. It's an expendable team, but relying on paid informants, they track and kill several in Europe and Lebanon. They must constantly look over their shoulders for the CIA, KGB, PLO, and their own sources. As the body count mounts -- with retribution following retribution -- so do questions, doubts, and sleepless nights. Loyalties blur. What does it mean to be a Jew?
In September 1972, Palestinian terrorists, posing as athletes, are able to infiltrate the relatively unsecured athlete's village at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, where they take Israeli athletes and coaches hostages, the release of who they consider illegally held Arab prisoners in Israel the requested ransom. Because the Israeli government refuses to negotiate, the terrorists, who end up being referred to as Black September, end up killing eleven of those hostages. Beyond the official Israeli response to the massacre, the Israeli government forms a covert team whose mission is to assassinate those eleven they see as responsible that are living in the western world. This team will have no official ties to the government or Mossad, including to their official unofficial handler, Ephraim. Although not an obvious choice on the surface, they choose as as head of this disparate five man team Avner Kaufman, a Mossad agent, former bodyguard to Prime Minister Golda Meir and son of a respected Israeli military leader. As the team goes about their mission, they agree to disagree about many aspects of what they are doing, including its purpose and what collateral damage is considered acceptable. They also have to alter plans based on the reaction by the Arab to their killings. Avner and the team will learn that the lines between who is considered a friend and an enemy can often be blurred.
During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, eleven Israeli athletes are taken hostage and murdered by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September. In retaliation, the Israeli government recruits a group of Mossad agents to track down and execute those responsible for the attack.
In the wake of 1972 Munich Olympic tragedy, the Mossad retaliates by deploying a team of agents (led by Avner) in Europe to assassinate Palestinian terrorist leaders suspected of planning the attack, which left eleven Israeli athletes dead.
Based on the true story of the Black September aftermath, about the five men chosen to eliminate the ones responsible for that fateful day.
- The film begins with a depiction of the events of the Munich Massacre in 1972. After the killings, the Israeli government devises "an eye for an eye" retaliation. A target list of eleven names are drawn up in retaliation for the eleven Israeli men murdered.Under orders from Israel's Prime Minister, Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), Operation Wrath of God is given the green light.
Avner (Eric Bana), an Israeli-born Mossad agent of German descent, is hand-picked by Meir to lead the assassination squad because he is not well-known in the field and he knows his way around Europe. To give the Israeli government plausible deniability, Avner officially resigns from Mossad, and the squad operates with no official ties to Mossad or the Government of Israel. Avner is given a team of four men: Steve (Daniel Craig), a South African driver; Hans (Hanns Zischler), a document forger from Frankfurt; Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a Belgian toy-maker trained in explosives; and Carl (Ciarán Hinds), a former Israeli soldier who "cleans up" after the assassinations. Since the Mossad is "not connected" to the mission, Avner and his team set about tracking down the eleven targets with the help of a French informant, Louis, who is introduced to Avner by an old friend. Funding for the mission comes in the form of U.S. cash deposited in a Swiss bank in Zurich.
The group go to Rome to track down and kill their first target, one of the Black September planners, Abdel Wael Zwaiter (Makram Khoury), who is now broke and living as a poet in Italy where he has translated One Thousand and One Nights into Italian. The group follows him from a speech he gave to a small audience. After confirming the poet is indeed Abdel Wael Zwaiter (by asking him) two members of the nervous squad (Avner & Robert) make their first kill, shooting him to death in the lobby of his apartment building. Moments after Zwaiter is dead, Carl walks in and collects the spent bullet casings.
Robert pretends to be a journalist interviewing their second target, Mahmoud Hamshari (Igal Naor) (who lives in Paris), about the Munich attack. He plants a bomb in the phone that is set to be detonated by a remote key. The phone number of Hamshari is to be dialed by Carl from a public telephone booth. However, Hamshari's daughter, who is supposed to have left for the day, unexpectedly returns to the flat. The men are not able to see her go back into the building because of a truck that blocks their view. When Carl calls the telephone from a phone booth and hears the little girl's voice, he and Avner race to stop Robert from detonating the bomb. After the little girl leaves the building, Carl calls the number, asks the man who answers if he's Mahmoud Hamshari and upon affirmation of same, Robert detonates the bomb. Hamshari is hospitalized and later dies from his wounds.
The team travel to Cyprus to kill the next target, Hussein Al Bashir (Hussein Abd Al Chir Mostefa Djadjam), by planting a bomb under his bed in his hotel room. Avner gets a room next to Abd Al Chir in the hotel. Avner and Abd Al Chir are both on the balcony and converse for a short while. When Avner has seen him actually on the bed, he shuts off his night-stand lamp (the agreed signal of the group) and Robert detonates the bomb. However, the explosives are much more powerful than expected, almost killing Avner in the room next door, and injuring a young couple in the room on the other side of Al Chir's. The team now have their doubts about Louis, who provided the explosives. Louis later claims that the explosives were exactly what Robert requested.
Louis gives the group information on three Palestinians in Beirut, a calculated risk since Avner & his team were strictly ordered by their handler, Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), not to engage any targets in Arab countries. The three men targeted are among the top most brass of PLO; Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar (Abu Youssef), (involved in planning of Black September), Kamal Adwan, a Fatah veteran, and Kamal Nasser, PLO spokesman. Ephraim at first refuses, however, he relents on the condition that the group be accompanied by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commandos. In Beirut, Steve, Robert and Avner meet up with a group of Sayeret Matkal IDF soldiers (including future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak). They penetrate the Palestinian leaders' guarded compound, killing all three leaders as well with other militia. Avner stops one of the team from killing a young teenaged witness.
Avner travels to Paris and meets again with Louis, who seems angry about the operation carried out in Beirut. Louis says that his father wishes to meet with Avner. Avner agrees and, wearing a sleeping mask, is taken to the French countryside. Louis' father is quite genial; he an Avner share a love for cooking. Avner eats with the family, a tense meal since Louis is agitated by Avner's presence & his papa's favorable attitude toward the stranger. As he leaves, Papa tells him that their business arrangement will continue as is provided Avner and his team do not attempt any other assassinations like those in Beirut. Upon returning to Paris, Louis tells Avner that he has another name for him, Zaid Muchassi (Djemel Barek). Avner agrees to the new fee of $200,000 & asks Louis to arrange a safe house for the team in Athens.
The team heads to Athens where Louis has provided a dingy apartment. During the night, four PLO members, who have rented the same apartment as a safe house, enter the dwelling. After a tense confrontation with guns drawn, Robert defuses the situation by claiming that his squad are fellow militant revolutionaries, members of ETA, RAF and ANC.
Avner discusses Middle Eastern politics with the group's leader, Ali. Ali speaks passionately about his quest for a homeland, while Avner debates with him, arguing that violence would only make the world regard Arabs as brutes, and that there are other Arab countries the Palestinians could go to. Ali disagrees, citing the examples of the Irish and the Jews themselves, and concludes that a home is more important than anything else.
Avner's group carry out their next assassination that of Zaid Muchassi, the replacement for Hussein Al Bashir in Cyprus. However, the bomb they hid in Muchassi's television malfunctions and it does not detonate. In desperation, Hans walks into the hotel, forces his way into the target's room throwing a grenade at the television and setting off the explosive phosphorus grenades planted there, killing Muchassi. The squad exchanges gunfire with the Palestinians during their escape, and Ali is killed by Carl.
Louis provides the squad with information on Ali Hassan Salameh (Mehdi Nebbou), the organizer of the Munich Massacre and the squad's prime target. Avner learns that the CIA may have ties to Salameh. The squad moves to London to track down Salameh, but they are not able to accomplish the assassination due to several unruly men, whom they suspect to be CIA operatives protecting Salameh because he is providing information to the United States government.
Avner is later propositioned by a woman in a bar but declines. Afterward, Carl reports to Avner and goes into the bar and is later killed by the same woman, who turns out to be a professional independent Dutch assassin. The group later track down and kill her in Hoorn in the Netherlands. When they have killed her, Hans refuses to let Avner close the woman's robe, leaving her body naked.
The movie then proceeds on dark and sombre lines. The squad is feeling the pressure of assassinations. Robert (the explosives expert), questions the morality of the entire mission. Avner listens to him patiently and asks him to take a break while they travel to Hoorn.
Later, the three remaining members, Avner, Steve and Hans discuss the futility of the entire mission. Sometime later, Hans is found stabbed to death (reasons not explained) while Robert is killed in an explosion in his workshop.
Avner and Steve finally locate Salameh in a gated residence in Spain, however, their assassination attempt is thwarted by Salameh's guards. Frightened, Avner shoots the guard who turns out to be a teenager -- the same one Avner left alive during the Beirut operation. The guards immediately return fire at them, and Avner and Steve manage to escape.
At the end, Avner is dispirited and disillusioned. He flies first to Israel, where he is lauded by a number of military persons, including Ephraim. Ephraim is eager to know more about Louis and any other sources, hoping to learn more about potential targets. However, Avner angers Ephraim when he refuses to divulge this information, saying that he is loyal to Louis. Avner visits his mother for consoling, but finds from her words of praise for what he's done.
Avner then travels to Brooklyn, New York to reunite with his wife and their child. Avner becomes psychologically tormented with paranoid fears about his family's safety, horrifying flashbacks of the Munich Massacre, and pangs of conscience about the morality of his killings and the value of his mission. Increasingly paranoid and post-traumatic, he suspects that agents from the Israeli consulate in New York are spying on him and his family. In a fit of rage, he goes to the consulate and berates the staff, hysterically telling them to leave him alone.
Ephraim comes to the United States to urge Avner to rejoin Mossad, but Avner rejects the offer. In the movie's final scene, in a playground in Gantry Plaza State Park across the East River from the United Nations headquarters building, Avner asks Ephraim to join him for dinner, in an offer of Jewish hospitality. Ephraim pauses, declines and leaves. Avner turns to go as well, and the camera pans to a shot of the New York City skyline, including the World Trade Center.
A postscript states that nine of the men originally targeted by Mossad were assassinated. It adds that Salameh was eventually killed in 1979.