Munich Games review – this tense thriller’s hero is like a multilingual terminator

Gun-toting, omnicompetent police officer Maria Köhler is out to stop a terror attack tied to the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. She’s the kind of person you want on your side

There’s a Mossad operative trying to look inconspicuous in a stairwell on the wrong side of Munich. But he’s not very good at it. One of the underscripted, probably Islamist enforcers who patrol this downtrodden estate snatches his phone and glances at the screen. “Jew!” he exclaims. It’s probably the text message in Hebrew that is the giveaway.

As the estate enforcers take obvious delight in showily duffing up this interloper, two things should be clear. First, antisemitism is alive and well in the modern-day Munich depicted in this tense, gripping, engagingly gnomic spy thriller. And two, Mossad should really think again about putting geeky computer analysts in the field if it is serious about thwarting a mass murder of Israeli athletes at the city’s Olympic stadium.

The premise for Michal Aviram’s thriller Munich Games (Sky Atlantic) is that 50 years after the Palestine Liberation Organisation-affiliated Black September terror group’s real-life attack at the Olympic Village – which left 11 members of Israel’s team and a West German policeman dead, along with five hostage takers – some bright spark has come up with an idea to mark the anniversary. A friendly football match between a team from Tel Aviv and one from Munich will symbolise a new hopeful era of peace and reconciliation in Israeli-German relations. As misplaced ideas for public events in 2022 go, it’s right up there with Unboxed, this summer’s festival of Brexit.

Aviram only hints at what happened during the Munich massacre 50 years ago with some black and white footage in the opening credits, but she is surely intending that viewers who weren’t born then or have forgotten what took place will get themselves up to speed.

Back in 1972, West German police were on alert for a terror attack on the games but warnings about PLO-fringe groups plotting an attack were largely ignored. An estimated 900m television viewers around the world saw Black September’s attack unfold in real time, from their initial demand that PLO prisoners in Israeli jails be released to their defeat 20 hours later.

As in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich, these events form the back story to Aviram’s six-part drama. Spielberg’s film dramatised what happened after Golda Meir approved a covert operation to hunt down and kill the Black September terrorists responsible. In Munich Games, another Mossad techie, Oren Simon, is hoping to thwart a copycat attack.

At the outset we see Oren in the Israeli embassy in Berlin, scrolling through an anti-Zionist thread which leads him to the dark web where, as you know from popular culture, nothing is ever sunshine and lollipops. There he finds a browser-based shoot ’em up video game in which you can play the gunman who breaks into the stadium, kills the security guards and murders the Israeli players. That would be disturbing enough, but Simon finds a reference in the game to anti-drone equipment installed there that was supposed to be secret – somebody’s been leaking like AFC Bournemouth’s defence. While his German homologues wrangle over office muffins, Oren connects the creator of this game with an Arabic man on the Munich terror watch list.

A multilingual, sexy, gun-toting, imperturbable terminator … eyneb Saleh as Maria Köhler in Munich Games.
A multilingual, sexy, gun-toting, imperturbable terminator … Seyneb Saleh as Maria Köhler in Munich Games. Photograph: Sky Studios/Sky Deutschland AG und Sky Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG räumlich und zeitlich uneingeschränkte Exklusivnutzungsrechte.

Minutes later, he and German officer Maria Köhler are driving to the suspect’s flat where she is to pose as an Arab-speaking woman who wants to buy some tramadol. This imposture is working well until Oren’s cover gets blown by the toughs who spotted his Hebrew text message and the tramadol-dealing, presumed anti-Israeli terrorist rushes to the balcony of his flat to see what the ruckus is below.

Very quickly, he realises that the Israeli agent getting filled in below and the suspicious woman in his flat are working together to take him down. A split second later he’s having some quite unpleasant fisticuffs on the balcony with Köhler, which concludes with her tumbling over the parapet. Even though the fall is a good 15 feet, she dusts herself off and starts shooting. The goons who’ve been beating on Mossad scatter.

I’m not suggesting that Köhler is a wish fulfilment for Michal Aviram, but I could understand if she were. Köhler is one of those omnicompetent protagonists who pop up in dramas like this, a woman who we first see having taxing aerobic sex with a gorgeous Arab man before returning to her boring German husband, and later realising that the bomb threat that confounded cops and security grunts at the stadium is not a bomb nor a threat. When she peels herself off the ground after her balcony fall it only confirms that she’s the kind of woman you want on your team – a multilingual, sexy, gun-toting, imperturbable terminator.

Aviram has created something as hard-boiled if not as unremittingly masculinist as her 2015 Israeli spy drama Fauda, and much more intriguing. We don’t know yet what – if anything – the beautiful game-ruining cabal of Munich-based anti-Zionists want, nor indeed if they exist, but my guess is their ambition is more than getting the VAR decision that cost West Ham a draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend overturned.


Stuart Jeffries

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Borgen review – this antidote to real-life politics is like The West Wing 2022
The Danish political drama is a breath of fresh air, given the unbearableness of Westminster. How lovely to have it back

Stuart Jeffries

02, Jun, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
We Own This City review – like The Wire, but about real corrupt cops. What a horror show
David Simon’s swaggering new series might remind you of The Wire, but We Own This City is based on a true case of mass police corruption in Baltimore – which makes it all the more disturbing

Rebecca Nicholson

07, Jun, 2022 @9:05 PM

Article image
Top Boy review – this brilliant crime drama always leaves you guessing
Netflix’s show about London drug gangs is back, adding instantly engaging new characters to an incredibly impressive cast. It’s at its peak – and not moving from that spot

Ellen E Jones

18, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
My Brilliant Friend review – this gorgeous drama is television at its best
Series three of this impeccably stylish adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novels is seductive, cinematic and weaves a spell unlike anything else

Rebecca Nicholson

10, Mar, 2022 @10:05 PM

Article image
Black Bird review – Ray Liotta is heartbreaking in this posthumous prison drama
This exquisitely pitched true-crime series about an inmate having to befriend a serial murderer at the behest of the FBI is a fitting farewell to the Goodfellas actor

Lucy Mangan

08, Jul, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Heartstopper review – possibly the loveliest show on TV
This sweet, heartwarming adaptation of Alice Oseman’s web comic about love between two British grammar school boys is wholesome to the point of retro – and like a hug in TV form

Rebecca Nicholson

22, Apr, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Vigil finale review – an anxiety-inducing horror spectacular
A clock-ticking, claustrophobic finale had DCI Silva in a cat-and-mouse game with a shifty Russian asset. If only they’d given her a map

Rebecca Nicholson

27, Sep, 2021 @7:09 AM

Article image
Deceit review – Rachel Nickell drama probes the ethics of entrapment
Niamh Algar puts in a phenomenal performance in this four-parter about the controversial undercover police operation which followed Nickell’s death, and events that beggar belief

Lucy Mangan

13, Aug, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
The Beast Must Die review – Cush Jumbo plots grief-fuelled revenge
BritBox’s first original drama is a taut revenge thriller, with Jumbo playing the mother of a hit-and-run victim who hunts down odious prime suspect Jared Harris

Lucy Mangan

28, May, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Bridgerton season two review – back with less fun and far less sex
It’s still sweeter and fizzier than rival period dramas, but without Regé-Jean Page, it’s no longer a heady, horny and impetuous watch

Jack Seale

25, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM