Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie Review: Operation Finale

Operation Finale ** / *****
Directed by: Chris Weitz.
Written by: Matthew Orton.
Starring: Oscar Isaac (Peter Malkin), Ben Kingsley (Adolph Eichmann), Mélanie Laurent (Hanna Elian), Lior Raz (Isser Harel), Nick Kroll (Rafi Eitan), Michael Aronov (Zvi Aharoni), Ohad Knoller (Ephraim Ilani), Greg Hill (Moshe Tabor), Torben Liebrecht (Yaakov Gat), Michael Benjamin Hernandez (Dani Shalom), Joe Alwyn (Klaus Eichmann), Greta Scacchi (Vera Eichmann), Peter Strauss (Lothar Hermann), Haley Lu Richardson (Sylvia Hermann), Pêpê Rapazote (Carlos Fuldner), Rainer Reiners (Fritz Bauer), Simon Russell Beale (David Ben-Gurion).
Operation Finale plays like the filmmakers saw Ben Affleck’s Argo, and figured they only thing it was really missing was Nazis. It is a film about how the Israelis discovered Adolph Eichmann living in South America, tracked him down, kidnapped him, and eventually got him back to Israel to stand trial – one of the most infamous trials in history, as Eichmann was the highest ranking Nazi war criminal tried, and because it was immortalized by Hannah Arendt, who used the phrase the banality of evil to describe Eichmann. That’s the part of the story everyone remembers – because that’s the part everyone saw. The operation to get Eichmann back to Israel is less well-known because, like Argo, it was kept secret. Now, it can finally be told. But did it really need to be told at all? I have my doubts.
In the film, the Israelis gets a tip that Eichmann is hiding out in Buenos Aires. They need to confirm his identity, before they can do anything. Once they do that, they’ll need to kidnap him, hold him in a safe house, and get him to the airport to fly home. To make everything even more above board, they’ll need to get Eichmann to sign a letter agreeing to come back with them to Israel to stand trial in the first place.
The film focuses on the efforts of Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) to accomplish all this. Like every other Jew in the movie, he lost people during the Holocaust – in his case, he flashes back to his sister being murdered in cold blood. He is a man of action – the person the Israelis send in when they need something done. This time, he is to get Eichmann, and bring him to the safe house – they have an interrogator there who will work on Eichmann to sign that form. He is to stay out of it. Of course, he doesn’t do that – and he begins talking to Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). The two don’t bond, per se, but they do develop some sort of connection. They are playing cat and mouse, and the film would probably love for you to think of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, but that would be giving them too much credit here.
Everything about Operation Finale is workmanlike. It isn’t bad really, but it never really rises above the level of a mediocre made-for-tv movie from the 1990s. It has an A-list cast and I can imagine a version featuring the great Isaac and Kingsley, that worked like gangbusters – but that version would need to be more daring, more willing to push the characters, and the audience, into uncomfortable situations, when all this one wants to do is offer bland platitudes. The direction by Chris Weitz is okay, but unremarkable. The screenplay is bland and generic – and fails to really generate much tension. Even at the climax – where a house is being raided, or a plane needs to get clearance to take off, and people “sacrifice” themselves, it’s not much of a sacrifice at all.
To be fair, we probably didn’t really need another version of the Eichmann trial either – or more observations like Ardent’s – as both of them have been done before, and probably better than they could be done here. Still, though, sometimes the untold story behind the story we all know is untold for a reason.

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