Synopsis – A team of secret agents set out to track down the Nazi officer who masterminded the Holocaust.
My Take – A thriller based on real life stories often carry enough depth and weight to leave us ruminating upon the idea of true justice, its value, its makeup, and the sacrifices good men make in its name. The film in question here is without a doubt also aiming at the same factors by showcasing the true story of the 1960 Mossad mission to capture Adolph Eichmann, the noted architect of the Final Solution, who was hiding in plain sight in Argentina. While this film from director Chris Weitz is nothing like most well-known historical dramas that came before it, this film successfully managed to strike a balance between its historical presentation and dramatization of moments.
Though it’s framed as a thriller, the film isn’t much of an action picture, in the same way you may have come to expect from a Jason Bourne or a James Bond film, it somehow works mainly because it’s mostly solid and compelling, and definitely well-acted by the likes of Ben Kingsley and Oscar Isaac. While I do think the film could have tweaked around, especially the pacing, in order to justify its run time, it is still probably a great example of classic story telling, and that element justifies the watch despite the lack of action set pieces. Perhaps more importantly, though, this film communicates the horror and aching loss of the Holocaust without actually showing us many gory details.
Set years after the World War II ended, the story follows Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), a Mossad agent who is still mourning the loss of his sister Fruma (Rita Pauls) and her three children to the Nazis during the war. An opportunity to quench his thirst for revenge comes in when he joins a clandestine team led by Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) and consists of his ex-girlfriend Dr. Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent) among others to Argentina to capture Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), the SS officer known as the author of the Final Solution, who had evaded capture, and settled in the capital city of Buenos Aires under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement.
Identified by Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), a Jewish girl, who had started dating Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn), an active member of a burgeoning new Nazi Party is flourishing in South America, and they are looking for a leader like Eichmann to unify and inspire the forces. Ordered to capture Eichmann alive, Malkin and his team with enough meticulous process of planning carry out a daring abduction successfully, but soon find themselves in a tight spot when they are informed about holding him in the safe house as they can’t get a flight out of the country to Israel for 10 days. Meanwhile the neo-Nazis take to the streets of Buenos Aires in a house-to-house search for him.
Personally I felt the last 15 minutes of the film were probably the most intense breath holding moments since it was done so well in Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning film, Argo. Sure it has some of those well-known Hollywood finagling, but for me it worked. Here, Chris Weitz’s direction is appropriately entertaining and Matthew Orton’s script sails nicely along. While the first half of the film is focused on orchestrating of the mission, the focus on the agents with the character of Eichmann just being a shadow looming off-screen. It’s through them we find out about his reputation, his heinous acts and his indifference to human life. But when he finally arrives onscreen, Eichmann is surprisingly presented as a fatherly figure looking out for his young child and his older son Klaus. The tension ramps up when the actual abduction takes place, which is without a doubt breathtaking and intense.
Taking place in the early darkness of the evening, Peter walks by Eichmann on the dirt road from the bus, turns and grabs him; there is a struggle, and others run up and pull their quarry into the car. While from inside the candle lit house, Mrs. Eichmann (Greta Scacchi) hears something, peers out the window, and sees nothing as it is all over by then. Here, director Weitz does a solid if not spectacular job of emoting the suspenseful tension of whether Malkin and his team will be able to succeed in their mission, but the meat of the film is the interaction between Eichmann and Malkin.
In the second half, the story changes pace as the intimacy change, as the film takes place mainly in the safe house where Eichmann is blindfolded and spoon-fed. It’s here that the psychological games and political maneuverings begin. With a ten-day flight delay, Malkin must coerce or persuade Eichmann to sign off on his willingness to be transported to Israel to face what he regards as a show trial.
Once captured, the elder Eichmann repeats over and over again that he was powerless to disobey Hitler; still, director Weitz doesn’t let the audience forget that the Nazi leader, and his son, are motivated by pure hatred. Eichmann tries to win his captors’ sympathy by presenting himself as a doddering, friendly person, but the film illustrates how his actions turned him into an emblem of the gravest sort of inhumanity. Simply put, the film is about staring evil in the face—and then dealing with the horrific realization that such evil often goes hand in hand with something much more mundane: humanity. As Malkin has to spend day after day locked in a room with Eichmann, who is by and large polite to him; the prisoner tells jokes and recalls childhood stories, even as director Weitz cuts to flashbacks of Eichmann presiding over a Nazi massacre. A bond of sorts develops between the two, and the film often takes on a strangely jokey tone, one that director Weitz at times struggles to balance with the larger gravity of the situation, but this where the film comes into its own.
However, though the film has a lot going for it sometimes dragged a little. As I mentioned above, despite being a thriller, the film at times tends to stretch itself out just for the sake of delivering drama, all the while extending the film to a run time of unnecessary 122 minutes. A result of which the pulses never really pound, while the thematically meatier moments aren’t as impactful as they could be.
The film also attempts to raise the stakes by giving Isaac’s character a troubling backstory and some maverick tendencies, but it just does pack the same punch of, say, Steven Spielberg’s similarly themed Munich. Another factor would be the usage of supporting characters. In the sense, a lot of characters were introduced at the beginning, and each played up for their emotional struggles to bring the former Nazi to justice. But after a prolonged intro, many of the characters kind of just stopped there. The film initially showed potential for very deep characters, and while the leads got the most dive into the psyche, the rest of the cast kind of got a fly over.
Thankfully the film benefits greatly from a terrific cast, especially the two main characters played by Sir Ben Kingsley and Oscar Isaac. Sir Kingsley is notably restrained in his performance of the last surviving mastermind of the Holocaust, and one of the most despised men on the planet. His subdued performance aligns perfectly with the image of the real man. This is a bold challenge for Oscar Isaac to match, and being a competent performer he is able to capture the internal conflict between his integrity and base instinct for violent revenge. In supporting roles, Nick Kroll, Michael Aranov, Haley Lu Richardson, Greta Scacchi, Joe Alwyn and Simon Russell Beale also manage to do well. Unfortunately, Melanie Laurent is wasted as an Israeli doctor whose chief function is to stick needles in the prisoner while making lovey eyes at Malkin. The same goes for Greg Hill, Lior Raz, Ohad Knoller, Pepe Rapazote, and Torben Liebrecht. On the whole, ‘Operation Finale ‘ is a slow-boiling well-crafted thriller with enough dramatic flair to hold you till the end.
Directed – Chris Weitz
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 122 minutes