Wednesday 21 July 2021

Movie Review: Operation Finale (2018)

A recreation of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann's capture by Mossad agents, Operation Finale squanders a good story and stalls on minutiae.

It's 1960, and the Mossad leadership receive intelligence that Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), a principal architect of the Holocaust, is living with his wife Vera (Greta Scacchi) and son Klaus (Joe Alwyn) in Buenos Aires. Eichmann's identity was exposed when Klaus started dating the German Jew Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson), who alerted her father Lothar (Peter Strauss). Israel's Prime Minister Ben-Gurion authorizes Eichmann's capture and transport to Israel to stand trial, recognizing the historic importance of publicly prosecuting a Nazi leader. 

A team of agents including Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), interrogator Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aronov) and doctor Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent) is dispatched to Argentina. They establish a safe house and conduct surveillance. The agents then abduct Eichmann at night while he is walking back home from his factory job, but extracting him back to Israel will not be straightforward.

An attempt to tap into an Argo-type vibe, Operation Finale stumbles on misdirected focus. Eichmann's globally televised trial is a milestone event in history, so writer Matthew Orton and director Chris Weitz seek nonexistent tension in a battle of wills between the Mossad agents and the captured Eichmann over whether or not he will sign a piece of paper. In an operation in which everything is forged, the coerced signature of a kidnap victim is a simply insufficient central plot device.

With events confined to the safe house for long stretches, other miscalculations abound. After seizing Eichmann, the ten day delay to secure a flight out of Buenos Aires is presented as an unplanned challenge for the Mossad team, and yet is a barely explained piece of operational incompetence. The fate of several characters crucial in the opening act is left hanging. And other than Malkin, the remaining Mossad agents remain essentially undefined.

The performances of Ben Kingsley as Eichmann and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin are better than the material, and their scenes together create a crackling duel between a manipulative master of evil and fiery trained assassin suppressing his instincts for revenge. Malkin's family history (he lost his sister and her children to Nazi death squads) provides an undercurrent of sorrow, but is also overplayed.

The just-in-time final act is Hollywoodization at its worst. Despite good source material, Operation Finale boards the wrong flight.

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