By William Wolf

OPERATION FINALE  Send This Review to a Friend

The film “Operation Finale” dramatizing the capture of Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents follows the basic facts as already historically revealed. So why does the story feel so gimmicky as well as suspenseful? The problem lies in the manner in which some of the ingredients unfold in the screenplay by Matthew Orton and in the direction by Chris Weitz.

As this doesn’t pretend to be a documentary, there have to be fictional elements. The intriguing aspects are how Eichmann is found in Argentina in 1960 and how the Mossad pulls off his capture, drugs him into silence to make him appear drunk, disguises him in a uniform and manages to get him aboard an El Al plane that spirits him to Israel.

The part that seems contrived occurs during a period in which the captive must be confined to a safe house in Argentina to avoid officials, Nazi sympathizers, and escaped Nazis hiding out in the country. Lengthy conversations are held between Oscar Isaac as agent Peter Malkin (based on a real character), who must persuade Eichmann, portrayed by Ben Kingsley, to sign a document agreeing to be transported to Israel so that El Al will take him. Malkin is personally haunted by the Nazi murder of his sister and her children during the Holocaust.

Isaac is excellent, and the skillful Kingsley appears to relish his role, getting an expansive opportunity to mentally fence with his interrogator, as well upon expound on his defensive position, his views and persona. These long confrontations, whether rooted in any truth or not, seem hyped to give the drama more depth, but they come across as too Hollywood-ish within the context of the tense and dangerous operation.

There is also the interjection of romantic feelings between Malkin and his ex-girlfriend, Hanna, played by Mélanie Laurent, a doctor who goes on the mission with her assignment to sedate Eichmann at the crucial moments. The relationship seems another contrived interjection.

The details of the assignment itself are gripping. The tip-off as to where Eichman is living comes from, Sylvia Hermann, a young Jewish refugee, played sympathetically by Haley Lu Richardson, who dates one of Eichmann’s sons before he learns her ethnicity. When she subsequently realizes who his father is, in the ensuing plot melodramatics she comes under grave danger.

We see the details of planning the operation. There is the suspense involving how Eichmann is grabbed, and the problem of keeping him in a safe house when the kidnappers must await the opportunity to fly him out of the country. There are all sorts of obstacles at the last moment, with those trying to thwart the attempt in hot pursuit and the agents imperiled.

Of course, we know the outcome of Eichmann being tried in Israel as a symbol of the Holocaust and eventually hanged, which the film duly notes. We see the courtroom set-up and the crowds waiting to get in and watch, with Malkin ironically having to get to the end of the line. The spectators view horrendous scenes of the exterminations presented as evidence. We also see a photo of the real Malkin at the end.

Although the lingering importance of the subject makes this a a film worth seeing for its better parts, the result is definitely a mixed bag. An MGM release. Reviewed August 29, 2018.


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