God, they love to make movies about World War II and the aftermath, don’t they? Well that’s probably because there are so many great stories attached to that event especially with the Holocaust being a primary focus of that time in history. One story that had yet to be told on film is the mission to capture the man who is largely credited for the creation of the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann. That story has now been told on the big screen as “Operation Finale”. The film is an interesting one on the surface. It’s a historical drama with some very capable actors and Chris Weitz, the director of “The Golden Compass” and one of the “Twilight” movies, at the helm. The story alone is an intriguing premise following Jewish and Israeli spies who work to track one of the last major players in the atrocities from Germany during WWII. How well does this film adapt such a story? Well I took a look for myself. This is my review of “Operation Finale”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Operation Finale” is named after the operation that was put into action to capture Nazi SS Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) from his home in Argentina around the time of the country’s 150th anniversary in 1960. Eichmann is considered the man who conceptualized what would go on to become the Holocaust during WWII. The extraction team is made up of several operatives including Peter Malkin (Oscar Issac), a real-life intelligence officer and Jew whose sister was killed during the Holocaust along with her children. Driven by his loss, Malkin helps lead the team which also includes the likes of Hanna (Mélanie Laurent) a doctor meant to sedate Eichmann, Mossad spymaster Isser Harel (Lior Raz), intelligence officer Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) and others. Malkin and his team successfully capture Eichmann however Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn) organizes local Nazi supporters to locate and retrieve his father. The extraction crew discovers that the plane meant to help them escape will not allow them on board without Eichmann himself signing off on his own extraction leading Malkin to play a cat and mouse mind game with the Nazi general to obtain a signature before the crew is compromised and their mission aborted.
As I said in the beginning, “Operation Finale” includes a very capable cast that do a fine job of bringing the drama, suspense and personalities of their characters and experiences to life. The story mostly focuses on Oscar Issac and Ben Kingsley. Issac portrays real life Mossad intelligence officer Peter Malkin who really was the man who physically captured Ben Kingsley’s Adolf Eichmann. Watching these two amazing actors, who each represent different generations of on-screen performing I might add, go back and forth in a mind game filled with deception, charm and patience is a whole lot of fun. Kingsley brings his A-game spouting off awesome one-liners as he portrays a Nazi leader attempting to justify his actions and in an odd way he makes Eichmann a sympathetic villain. He’s a flawed man and admits it, at one point even coming close to sincerely apologizing for the horrendous actions he helped commit, but he never goes all in with the apology. There’s a spectacular control to how Eichmann is portrayed because Kingsley knows how to handle the dialogue. It’s never easy to know when he’s being sincere and when he’s playing off of Malkin’s emotions which is part of the beauty of what this film has to offer. We get a villain who charms us as much as the protagonist. At one point I even found myself wanting him to find redemption despite knowing he didn’t deserve it. It’s a truly captivating role. It’s the kind of performance Kingsley is known for and a lesser performer may have not been able to capture all the subtleties that he was able to embrace with this character.
On the other side of that coin we have Peter Malkin, a Jewish agent of the Mossad who becomes the primary interrogator for Eichmann as he tries to coax the Nazi general into literally signing his life away. Isaac is just as brilliant in his role as Kingsley is as Eichmann serving as an emotionally driven man who finds it difficult to keep his anger and frustration over the loss of his sister in check. This effects his relationship with Eichmann but not enough to give Eichmann the upper hand. Oscar Isaac portrays Malkin as a man who understands the responsibility on his shoulders and believes that pandering to his opponent’s ego and humanity will get him what he wants. I can’t understate how much fun it is to watch Isaac and Kingsley play games with each other. Both actors are splendid performers who clearly respect each other and what they are capable of. Their CHARACTERS also have a respect for each other too. There’s a mutual understanding neither of them would like to admit. In a better world I’d dare say they’d be friends, but history has put them against each other with no way to bridge the gap. The dynamic is awesome and makes every exchange tremendously entertaining.
While Isaac and Kingsley get most of the screen time they’re not the only ones who shine. Many members of their team turn in decent performances including Lior Raz as the behind-the-scenes leader of the operation and Mélanie Laurent, the only female character in the core team, who gives us a tough and capable woman that serves as the rock that helps Malkin stay grounded. For me though I’d say the performance by Nick Kroll is a real standout and the most unexpectedly awesome performance in this film. Kroll is primarily a comedic actor. Look at his filmography: “Sausage Party”, “Captain Underpants”, “The House”, “Uncle Drew” …who would have ever thought this guy could do well in a more dramatic role? Not me! Not me at all. He proves me and pretty much everyone else wrong by taking on a small, but significant and serious role in this film as Rafi Eitan, a real-life member of the team that took in Eichmann. Kroll should do more projects like this. I know comedy is his wheelhouse, but I saw some things from him in this movie I didn’t expect. I think he can handle more dramatic roles and I hope this film won’t be the end of his more serious film career because I think he can make it work if he really wants to.
For me “Operation Finale” is an example of how the balance of creative license can make or break a film. It had moments where that creativity added to the drama while it also had aspects that took away from it. For now, let’s focus on the good. “Operation Finale” takes some liberties in the stakes and the drama of trying to get Adolf Eichmann out of Argentina. One of the most egregious examples of creative license is Eichmann’s family putting together a hunt to find him while he was in captivity. This didn’t really happen, however in the film it adds a nice little bit of drama to the overall narrative. Considering that the operation lasted around ten days it would have been difficult to create an engaging story just off the banter of the two leads alone. The decision to add a subplot where the captors have to race against the clock to avoid being found out created some much-needed drama without compromising the integrity of the overall story. It didn’t affect the outcome, it just added a little more spice to the second and third acts. The other major fictional aspect of the story was the female doctor Hannah, played by Mélanie Laurent, who served as Malkin’s romantic interest and the medical member of the crew charged with the sedation. In reality a male doctor was on hand for the capture but adding a love interest for Malkin to me was a good choice. It gave him someone to relate to, someone to confide in and someone to help level him out in his mind game with Eichmann. For me it worked and again didn’t really compromise the story in any way.
Otherwise I was rather surprised with how many historical aspects were included in this film. The need for a signature, Malkin being the one who tries to talk Eichmann into signing his life away, and even Malkin wearing gloves during the kidnapping were all accurate portrayals of real history and they were handled really well on screen. Where the creative license was taken here is that Malkin’s conversations with Eichmann were dramatized for the film and as I already stated in the “Acting” section this made for some of the best moments of the whole project. Watching two men who are enemies by default try to be nice to each other and win each other over for their own benefit and actually finding some solace and redemption in the process is an amazing aspect of the film. We’re never outright told that Eichmann is a bad person, yet we’re never meant to believe he’s a good man either. Eichmann is allowed to breath as a villain and present his very human approach to explaining his actions and why he did what he did, something that is also historically accurate especially from the heavily televised trials of his conviction. A lot of times creative license and historical accuracy fail to blend in these kinds of movies, but what’s impressive about “Operation Finale” it is serves as a splendid merging of Hollywood magic and historical detail perfectly telling a story that deserves to be told while adding some unique additions to keep it entertaining and interesting. This makes it pretty cool melding of art house accuracy and Hollywood flare that I found made for a pretty cool experience overall.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
However, not every bit of creative license paid off in this film and this has to do more with what WASN’T included in the movie than anything else. For one there’s an entire B-story left out of this tale that I think deserved to be told as well. In real life the mission to apprehend Eichmann also initially included an attempt to apprehend notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele as well, a mission that was abandoned supposedly because it would have compromised the Eichmann extraction. Instead of ignoring it however the filmmakers put a slight reference to Mengele into the plot having the man who helped them locate Eichmann in the first place arrested under suspicion of being the doctor going by a different name. Admittedly it’s something that you might not ever even notice unless you knew the history of the operation. I think adding in the Mengele subplot would have actually been a superior creative choice to the Hollywood-created drama of Eichmann’s family getting involved. I know why they did it, it allowed for a more action packed tale and upped the ante more than the abandoned Mengele mission would have, but if they weren’t going to use the Mengele B-story I wish they would have ignored it altogether instead of using it, along with the abuse of other allies of the agents, to heighten the drama artificially where that drama had already been pumped up through other creative choices. It’s a nitpicky thing but it’s something that bothered me nonetheless.
I also wasn’t really a big fan of the pacing of this movie. It’s a two-hour film and it FEELS like two hours. They could have easily tightened up quite a few scenes to shorten the timespan a little bit and made it a much more pleasant experience overall. There is a lot of padding, much of it ironically part of the creative license I spoke about earlier, and it does take quite a while to get to the kidnapping, interrogation and such that we all turned out to see. You could have easily cut 15 or 20 minutes of blandness out of this film and it wouldn’t have lost much. A lot of the dead weight involves attempts at giving the entire team some time in the spotlight, but we really don’t get a lot of time to get to know each team member that intimately anyway so what’s the point? Giving them extended group discussions only serves to remind us we don’t really KNOW these people. I mean we have one whole moment where Hannah tells off one of the team members for getting frisky and another group scene devoted to cheese. I’m not kidding, their conversation uses cheese as the springboard for some very quick and pointless rant about the evils of the world. This is where the movie tries too hard for me. It wants to present a story that acknowledges the whole team but in the end it’s really all about Malkin and Eichmann and we all know it. What the filmmakers thought would be decent character development only ends up being glorified padding and filler at the end of it all.
“Operation Finale” is a fine movie, if a flawed one. It respects history while making some necessary changes to allow the story to be more gripping and entertaining although I personally feel it might have benefited more from a little more historical fact that fiction. The pacing is off too which does make this film an overblown bore at times, but overall the product is a relatively neatly packaged look at the capturing of a despicable and charming man who helped orchestrate one of the vilest crimes against humanity in modern history. The acting is top notch and watching Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley, two powerfully talented performers, battle it out in a duel of wits and kind words really makes for an awesome cinematic experience in and of itself. It’s not a film that will appease everyone and its certainly not a film for those looking for nonstop action and suspense, but it does offer a lot for anyone seeking out a historical drama that is willing to take a few chances and dive right into the inner workings of a real-life war villain and the man who helped take him down. It’s not spectacular or perfect, but it’s entertaining, thrilling and enjoyable nonetheless.