Towards the end of World War II, three of the four architects of the Holocaust escaped justice by taking their own lives. The fourth, Adolf Eichmann, ultimately escaped to Argentina, and for almost 30 years there was no one for the Jewish people to lay the blame on for one of the most, if not the most, horrendous periods in human history.
In the early 1960’s a young lady in Argentina meets a dashing young man in the town’s local cinema. He is quite enamored with her and she takes him home to meet her father, Lothar Hermann, and there he learned the name of this young man’s father… Adolf Eichmann. This news then makes it to Israel, specifically to Mossad, about Eichmann’s presence in Argentina. After a reconnaissance mission is dispatched to verify that this person of interest is indeed Eichmann is a specialized task force put together to find Eichmann, extract him from Argentina, and bring him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. The first stage, kidnapping him, largely goes without a major hitch (there were a couple of small hitches) and they keep him in a safe house. They are then tasked to get him to confess who he really is, and then convince him to sign a letter agreeing that he be flown out of Argentina back to Israel. The only problem is that Eichmann is also a person of great importance to the Nazi movement in Argentina, and they want him back at any cost. Thus begins a multi-layered chess game on both sides as they each try to outwit each other for Eichmann’s life.
Last year Keith and I saw a short film at the Phoenix Film Festival titled The Driver Is Red, which through pencil sketch drawings, told the story of Eichmann’s capture. It gave mostly the technical details of what went in to making that operation work, but with Operation Finale we get to see the people involved, what was driving them to see this capture and extraction of Eichmann through, and the manner in which it was brought to fruition.
One of the key figures in Mossad was Peter Malkin, played by Oscar Isaac. He’s flippant, and possibly even reckless. However, behind that mask of bravado he wears lies a personal tragedy that would shape his actions. Isaac’s character is a hero here, but he has to keep that personal pain lurking somewhere beneath the surface at all times. Even when he is having “his buttons pushed” you can see the fury and rage that has been burning inside of him for nearly 30 years, and nearly jeopardizes the entire mission when that fire for vengeance nearly overwhelms him. Then there is the man who pushed those buttons, and that is Eichmann so terrifyingly portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Here he calls upon every acting skill he possesses in order to make both his captors, as well as the audience, that he is in reality Ricardo Klement. Even after he is exposed for who he really is, the dialogues that take place between Malkin and Eichmann are amazing as you see how these two characters are trying very hard to get under the skin of the other. Eichmann has no desire to go to Israel stating that it will be a mock trial and that they are not interested in the truth, while Malkin continually tries to tell him that he needs to go so that the world can here Eichmann’s truth. It is in these scenes that we get to see what a real treasure Kingsley is with his craft. He presents Eichmann with certain manners of expression as well as facial ticks and mannerisms that just seem to help flesh out the character. However, it isn’t until some footage of the real Eichmann is later shown that we see how incredibly well done Kingsley did in bringing Eichmann back to life. Every single bit of expression as well as everything he says is just part of his genius at getting his captors to either release or kill him. Kingsley plays this part so deftly that when he tries to tell Malkin that they’ve got the wrong guy you actually start to wonder if history got it all wrong.
There are so many other wonderful actors in this film that it could arguably be called an ensemble piece, and while the remaining cast members may not have the stature of either Isaac or Kingsley, their commitment to their roles was no less than anyone else’s, making this film an actor’s dream job. They all performed their roles so powerfully that within minutes I stopped thinking that I was watching a film, and instead I felt as if I was watching some secret footage taken from the mission itself. The passion that all of these people had ended up becoming exhausting, just as the mission to extract Eichmann was no doubt exhausting on all of the Mossad team.
Director Chris Weitz just doesn’t deliver the intrigue, but reminds everyone the horrors that Eichmann is responsible for. It’s never overdone, but displayed in just the right amounts and at just the right moments throughout the film. One very key scene, early on in the film, sees members of Mossad discussing how they would like to put a bullet in Eichmann’s head, but it is when the Israeli Prime Minister shows up and gives a heartfelt plea to the team as to why Eichmann must live does the weight of his crimes come across. While we all know of the Holocaust on one level or another, but hearing that amazing speech from David Ben-Gurion (masterfully delivered by Simon Russell Beale) almost had members of the audience (myself included) completely sobbing out of grief. And yet, Weitz knows how to create an incredible air of suspense, for even knowing how this extraction mission turned out, the manner in how the chase takes place, and the obstacles that each side faces, quite literally had me biting my nails. When this film isn’t emotionally intense, it is equally suspenseful. However the ending just doesn’t happen after the extraction takes place (this is hardly a spoiler if you know your history), for some of the scenes during the trial will unquestionably rip your heart out.
Operation Finale is a film that is brilliantly acted, incredibly suspenseful, respectful to history, and utterly horrifying. On a scale from 1 (weak) to 10 (strong), this film receives a 10+!
Thanks to Fingerpaint Marketing for making the Press Screening for this film possible.
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