Directed by: Chris Weitz
Premise: Based on true events. In 1960, a team of Israeli agents track down Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), the last living Nazi official who masterminded the Holocaust, and bring him to justice.
What Works: The strongest part of Operation Finale is in the film’s second half after Eichmann has been abducted by the Mossad agents. A diplomatic complication requires the Israelis to get Eichmann to sign permission to be taken out of the country. Meanwhile, Argentinian Nazi sympathizers scour the city for Eichmann and gradually close in. The tension here is quite effective and the film is at its best when one of the lead Mossad agents, played by Oscar Isaac, interrogates Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley, and tries to win him over. Isaac and Kingsley are very good together. Eichmann is a master manipulator while Isaac plays an Israeli agent whose passions get the better of him. Kingsley does an excellent job of capturing what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” His performance keeps Eichmann within human dimensions but there are moments in which he reveals this man’s monstrousness and that duality of humanity and evil makes Kingsley’s performance easily the best part of the film.
What Doesn’t: The first half of Operation Finale
is a bit slow. The film lacks a sense of urgency and the process of
tracking down and identifying Eichmann doesn’t have drama or stakes.
The filmmakers clearly want that to be the case. Operation Finale
opens with a Mossad mission gone wrong in which agents execute the
wrong Nazi and the filmmakers don’t initially identify Eichmann.
Clearly, the intent is to build up the tension as to whether the
Israeli agents have the right man or not but there’s little ambiguity
and the abduction sequence and the big reveal don’t have dramatic
impact. There are also some unexplored and unexplained background
issues. Argentina was a refuge to many Nazis, the film portrays a
brimming Nazi subculture, and it is implied that Argentinian government
officials are Nazi sympathizers. But it’s not clear who these
Argentinian figures are and what authority they have. Eichmann’s trial
also fails to make much of a dramatic impact. Throughout the middle of
the picture, Eichmann insists that he should be tried in a European
country where the atrocities took place and not in Israel where
Eichmann insists he won’t get a fair hearing. The movie fails to
address that issue. It also fails to develop its underlying theme—that
Israel was right to submit Eichmann to due process instead of just
putting a bullet in his head. This is a central issue of this story and
it has contemporary relevance but the filmmakers don’t do anything
interesting with it.
Bottom Line: Operation Finale is an average historical thriller. The movie doesn’t get nearly the maximum tension out of its premise nor does it deal with the complex issues with much depth. But as a tale of espionage the movie works well enough to be entertaining.
Episode: #715 (September 9, 2018)