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Operation Finale (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

Operation Finale


Starring Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, Joe Alwyn, Greta Scacchi, Peter Strauss, Haley Lu Richardson, Pepe Rapazote, Rainer Reiners, Simon Russell Beale, Rocio Muñoz, Rita Pauls, Ania Luzarth, Tatiana Rodriguez and Ezequiel Campa.

Screenplay by Matthew Orton.

Directed by Chris Weitz.

Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Nazi Adolf Eichmann was known as the face of evil and “the architect of the final solution” in and after World War II. “We all had nicknames,” his character – played by a terrific Ben Kingsley – dismisses that designation in Operation Finale, the rare outright laugh line you will get from a genocidal mass-murderer.

The 1960 capture of a free Eichmann, living under a new identity, in Argentina by Israeli special-forces Mossad, and the consequential internationally-watched trial posed an interesting question: Does evil always look evil? In fact, can evil look like a harried middle-management accountant? Can evil look bland and non-threatening?

Of course, it can.

Operation Finale looks at the brave mission in which a team of Israeli soldiers were alerted to Eichmann’s possible existence in Argentina by a local blind Holocaust survivor and his daughter (who was raised Catholic and knew little of her father’s history). The team moves to Argentina, sets up a perimeter, and attempts to verify that this man – who now seems to be a dull automobile worker and family man – could indeed be the same person who came up with the idea of the Nazi Concentration Camps.

If it is really him, they must grab him and get him out of the country – a country which is peppered with former Nazis – to face justice in the Jewish homeland of Israel. This trial allowed many of his victims to discuss his crimes and gave much of the world first-person descriptions of the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust.

And, as the man acknowledges when he is caught, does taking his life in reprisal make up for the lives of six million war dead?

Operation Finale takes a fascinating story from recent history – but not necessarily an overly cinematic one – and Hollywood-izes it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the film is actually rather good, if a tiny bit overly slick for its own tragic storyline.

Therefore, the film focuses on the scheme to capture Eichmann, rather than the hugely important consequences of that act, which it somewhat treats as an afterthought. It’s probably not a coincidence that in the film’s finale, mission leader Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) did not stick around to watch the whole trial.

Just like its main character, Operation Finale does not so much concern itself with the trial, though in history this is what is remembered. In a certain way, Operation Finale is foregoing the actual finale of the tale. Instead, they turn it into something of a spy drama, focusing on the team who must capture Eichmann and then must hide him for over a week in a dangerous land which is full of enemies.

Interestingly, the storyline of Operation Finale often feels very similar to the details of the 2013 Best Picture winner Argo, which is particularly odd because both are based on true incidents – though separated by a couple of decades and vastly different participants and political concerns. (Argo was about the sneaking of some hidden American diplomats out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.)

Then again, both films do have one very important thing in common; a rejection of cruel authoritarian regimes.

Of course, Operation Finale has hit a home run with its leads. Oscar Isaac as the recalcitrant Israeli spy and Ben Kingsley as a war-criminal in middle age, grown slightly soft, but still paranoid after a decade and a half of hiding in plain sight. The two have some truly heartrending clashes in the Argentine safe house while awaiting escape.

Despite the fact this is based on a true story, some of the plot points feel a little off. For example, it highly stretches credibility that El Al, the Israeli airline, would insist on a signed letter from Eichmann agreeing to be flown home to his trial and likely execution. Also, while Mélanie Laurent is always welcome in a film, the romantic subtext between her character and Malkin feels grafted on.

Chris Weitz’s direction is just fine in his first directing job since the wondrous 2011 immigration drama A Better Life, once again leaving behind the early bloatedness of his earlier Twilight: New Moon and A Golden Compass or the breeziness of American Pie and About a Boy. (Weitz has written and produced several films since 2011, as well as having written three YA novels.)

Operation Finale takes the story of a vitally important piece of history and tells it pretty darned well. With all the baggage that comes with this subject, that’s probably the best that you can ask for.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: August 29, 2018.

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