in September (***)
review by Jon
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, eleven
Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian terrorists
who called themselves “Black September.” The world
was glued to the television as news continued to pour in and
stations began to show live coverage of the unfolding situation.
What started out as a hostage situation ended with the death
of every athlete being held in captivity. How did it get to
that point? How, when everyone knew the terrorists had these
hostages in a hotel, did they end up on an airport runway?
How were they able to execute these people? How did they get
All of these questions are answered in Kevin Macdonald’s
unflinching documentary on this horrifying day. The tragedy
unfolds before our eyes using a combination of interviews,
archival news footage and computer simulations. There is a
lot of build up. We’re given some backstory into a few
of the hostages’ lives. A lot of time is devoted to the
Olympic Games themselves, presumably setting the scene that
doesn’t really need to be set. It takes quite a while
to really move into the heart of the story and what the film
is ultimately about: analyzing and dissecting the nearly 24
hour botched hostage negotiations.
Once the film gets going, very little slows it down. However,
it never truly makes it all the way to full-speed. The frustration
builds easily as each new mistake made by the police and governmental
bodies are revealed to us. You’ll sit fascinated in jaw
dropping disbelief at how everything progressed. The computer
models, although very crude in design and completely lacking
in photo-realistic detail, do a great job of illustrating specific
circumstances and fleshing out our understanding of what transpired.
The archival news footage was also rather interesting, but
I would have loved to see more than one station’s coverage.
I don’t know if any other networks covered it in the
United States as it was unfolding, but one would imagine there
would be some foreign stations that had cameras or broadcasters
reporting live. The interviews also lack a certain something.
Some of them are very telling and aid to the analytical feel.
Others don’t do much to add to the overall value and
emotional impact of the story. The most interesting of them
all, and a great reason alone to watch the documentary, is
the interview with the last surviving member of Black September,
Jamal Al Gashey. Gashey unapologetically tells his side of
the story. He relates what went wrong on their side and what
their true intentions were.
Knowing that the group was not initially meant to kill the
hostages lends an even deeper sadness to the tragedy. However,
I can’t help but think that more could have been done
to really drive everything home. Overall, it’s a solid
movie with several key points of interest. I don’t think
it would nearly as fascinating without Gashey’s participation.
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