Close to three hours long and nearly 20 years old, this TV movie from HBO fares decently for what it was and is—a look at Israel’s legendary counter-terrorist initiative following an attack on its Olympic athletes in Munich.

Close to three hours long and nearly 20 years old, this TV movie from HBO fares decently for what it was and is—a look at Israel’s legendary counter-terrorist initiative following an attack on its Olympic athletes in Munich.


Based on George Jonas’ book Vengeance, “Sword of Gideon” spends most of its time portraying how Israeli agents crossed the globe killing Arab extremists—including members of the “Black September” organization that masterminded the “Munich Massacre” killing 11 Israelis in September 1972.


The movie alters some of the facts, though the facts themselves about the operation have been disputed through the years.


The movie stars Steven Bauer as Avner, a commander in the Israeli army who is recruited by the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) to lead the team of spies that will exact revenge for Jewish deaths.


The first couple of minutes show a re-creation of the attack in Munich; the rest concentrates on Avner’s recruitment, training and executing of mission … and men. One of the movie’s most significant features is the way it depicts Avner and company killing their targets in cold blood.


“Gideon” also shows how Avner’s work affects his personal life, especially his relationships with his wife (Leslie Hope) and father (John Hirsch).


Colleen Dewhurst makes a cameo as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She personally appeals to Avner to take the assignment, telling him that “the guilty must not go unpunished.”


Israel, she says, “exists to protect us from our enemies and to provide us with a haven in this world where we can live in peace. But they will not let us live in peace.” They are killing Jews everywhere, she says—even in Munich.


“Meanwhile the rest of the world is playing volleyball and winning medals,” she continues, referring to the fact that when the terrorists seized the athletes in Munich, the Olympic Committee initially decided to carry on with the games.


“Maybe these terrorists will not let us live in peace,” she tells Avner, “but I promise you Israel will chop off the hands of those who cut short the lives of our children. This terrorism, all terrorism, must be stopped.”


Avner says he needs to think about the offer, but it doesn’t take him long to accept. He is guided by a top-level official named Samuels, played convincingly by Rod Steiger, who introduces him to the other team members.


There’s Hans (Robert Joy), who specializes in documents; Robert (Michael York), the explosives expert; Jean (Laurent Malet), who’s in charge of transportation; and Karl (Peter Dvorsky), whom they call the “sweeper” because he makes sure they leave no traces.


A Mossad leader presents them their list of seven targets, reminding them that they are “Israeli justice” and “not terrorists.” He cautions them heavily against shedding innocent blood.


Then it begins: hit after hit after hit, with a fair amount of attention to the conflicting feelings of Avner’s team. For example, as they prepare to whack one of the terrorists in France, they are concerned about the man’s young daughter and the effect his killing will have on her.


Along the way, Avner and his men become targets themselves as word of their executions spreads among their enemies. The last hour of the movie gets a bit weighted down as each planned killing becomes less interesting than the one before.


Overall, the movie isn’t bad as a piece of entertainment. The performances are generally good and the music by Georges Delerue is fitting. The wardrobe and production design, however, feel more like the mid-1980s than the early 1970s, when it’s supposed to take place.


The movie eventually works around to Avner trying to make peace with what he has done and what he feels he must now do. As Samuels tries to convince Avner he did the right thing, Avner isn’t so sure.


“I see another terrorist ring, another underground army rising up to hunt us—taking revenge for our revenge,” he says. He believes the terrorists deserved to die, “but sending a handful of men to kill terrorists—that can’t be the answer.”


With terrorism still a buzzword—and worse, a tactic—20 years after the film’s release and more than 30 years after the Munich Massacre, “Sword of Gideon” has relevance at its heart.


Says an epilogue: “Terrorism has escalated and governments throughout the world are still seeking the near impossible; a civilized response to acts of wanton savagery.”


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for


MPAA Rating: Not rated.

Director: Michael Anderson

Writer: Chris Bryant (based on the book by George Jonas)

Cast: Avner: Steven Bauer; Robert: Michael York; Hans: Robert Joy; Jean: Laurent Malet; Karl: Peter Dvorsky; Samuels: Rod Steiger; Golda Meir: Colleen Dewhurst; Shoshana: Leslie Hope.

Also read:


Spielberg Making Film About 1972 Munich Attack



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