Operation Finale takes audiences on a thrilling ride back to the 1960s when Mossad hunted down one of the chief architects of the Final Solution.
When World War 2 came to an end in 1945, those in Nazi leadership had choices to make. They could kill themselves to avoid capture or try to seek refuge in a country that would allow them to do so. Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels had all killed themselves but others in leadership like Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) evaded custody.
When Mossad learns from Lothar Hermann (Peter Strauss) that Eichmann is alive and well, they send a team to Buenos Aires to capture him. Hermann had escaped the war by traveling to Argentina. Years later, he plays a role in one of the biggest clandestine operations in Israeli history. It’s all because his daughter, Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), has a chance encounter with Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn) at a movie theater. Lothar recognizes the last name and believes this “Ricardo Klement” figure to be Eichmann himself. He immediately sends word to Israeli officials by way of a German Jewish prosecutor, Fritz Bauer. Bauer didn’t trust Germany to get the job done so he passed the word on. How things go down in the film is a bit different from what happened in real life.
Mossad sends an agent, Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aronov), to make sure they have the right guy before sending a team. Given how young the nation was, this team boasts of many international actors. Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) leads a task force that includes Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and medical doctor Hannah (Mélanie Laurent) among others. Eitan is the only member still living and while Kroll adds some humor to the part, he shows that there’s more to him than just a comedic side.
When they do finally capture Eichmann, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks. The task force had come up with a plan to take Eichmann to Israel via El Al but need him to sign an agreement to be extradited. He refuses to do so repeatedly. The film soon turns into a psychological thriller with Malkin and Eichmann going at it. In somehow being able to relate to this monster, Malkin is able to accomplish what everyone else couldn’t: getting Eichmann to agree to be extradited to Israel. The film doesn’t make light of Malkin’s sister having died at the hands of the Nazis and there are frequent flashbacks to heighten the drama.
While the plan is to come back via an El Al flight, it wasn’t going to be easy getting him on the plane. Argentina didn’t allow for extradition in 1960 so they would have to be covert about his identity. Once they are back in Israel, the film ends with a glimpse of Eichmann’s trial and its aftereffects. Malkin seems to be pleased that justice has been brought for his sister’s death.
Everything about this film is so perfect, be it the production design or camera framing. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat could very well find his way back to the stage. His score for the film is so memorable.
Selecting Chris Weitz to direct the film is a perfect choice. It may help that his family ties also have a strong connection to World War 2. It’s because of this that Weitz was familiar how an average Joe could end up being a monstrous individual.
Since the release of Schindler’s List nearly 25 years ago, there have been an increasing number of films about the Shoah as more survivors shared their stories. What’s to be made of the stories of Nazi hunters? We never really see their stories on screen. Simon Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, may be among the greatest Nazi hunters of all time. How many people know who he is? The further we get from 1945, the amount of survivors will decrease by the day. The film makes no secret of showing if someone is a survivor. The tattoo on the arm is front an center.
Thanks to Matthew Orton’s screenplay, we some insight into who the Mossad operatives were like as a person. How many of them were psychologically impacted by the Shoah, having survived it or lost family members. The film serves as a character study to an extent. Malkin, while depicted as being “emotionally stable” is the prime example of how an operative was impacted by the trauma. Oscar Isaac plays the part in what very well may be a career-defining performance for the actor. Malkin’s sister, Fruma, and her chidren were killed by the Nazis. How is Malkin able to move on with his life while his sister’s death still haunts him? With Eichmann’s capture and trial, the film shows us that Malkin is able to move on from living in the past.
This brings me to Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Eichmann. Orton’s script humanizes him to an extent. You have this man who who committed so much evil but yet gets depicted as a loving father. As much as it hurts to see this side of him, Kingsley handles the part of the two-sided monster so well.
As with any film telling a true story, dramatic licenses are made in the best interests of time. In this case, it’s the relationship between Sylvia Hermann and Klaus Eichmann. Lothar Hermann had been kidnapped but contrary to what happens in the film, this took place after Eichmann has already been flown to Israel.
This film itself is a spiritual successor to Judgement at Nuremberg. The 1961 film takes place during the trials that followed shortly after the war. Eichmann’s trial was different in that survivors were invited to share there stories. The film doesn’t go into much of the trial aside from opening introductions following the footage playing out. We see Eichmann in the caged booth, mostly for his own protection. His trial could be another film in its own right.
What Operation Finale accomplishes through film is showing the capture of one of the worst people to have ever lived: Adolf Eichmann. This isn’t the first time this story has been told and it probably won’t be the last. There’s an emotional feeling about seeing it play out on screen. Maybe it’s because it’s been so many years since the last adaptation but the film serves as an educational lesson for a new generation. This is the important part–to remind viewers that the Shoah happened and there were consequences for those involved.
There’s something to be said about how the trial is one of the biggest events in Israel’s history. There’s also something to be said about these monstrous figures getting away with doing evil without any justice. Israel could have taken Eichmann out in the blink of an eye. Instead, the nation wanted to him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity.
The thrilling Operation Finale is led by strong performances from Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley. This is a film that hits you in the gut and gives you all the feels when all is said and done. Ultimately, Operation Finale is one of the must-watch movies of 2018.
DIRECTOR: Chris Weitz
SCREENWRITER: Matthew Orton
CAST: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Lior Raz, Mélanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Mike Hernandez, Greta Scacchi and Pêpê Rapazote