Operation Finale recounts the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann by Israeli intelligence agents. The film is solid on several fronts, particularly the performances from lead actors Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley. The problem is that Operation Finale never achieves the gravitas of its subject matter. The Holocaust’s magnitude is superseded by the mechanics of spycraft. More emphasis on the enormity of this heinous crime was needed. Eichmann’s involvement is just too narrowly depicted. Operation Finale should have drawn the curtains further back on Eichmann’s murderous activities.
Operation Finale opens in 1954 with Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, searching for Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) in Europe. Led by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), their efforts bear no fruit. Eichmann has vanished. Six years later in Argentina, a fleeting romance between two teenagers (Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn) leads to a surprising revelation. Eichmann and his family are hiding in the country under false pretenses.
The Israeli government needs Eichmann alive. They want to put Eichmann on trial. Hold him responsible for his crimes and show the world that the Jews demand justice. Malkin, who’s haunted by the brutal killing of his beloved sister, must bottle his hatred for the greater cause. He assembles a crack team of operatives to kidnap Eichmann. The mission is rife with danger. Argentina is a den of Nazi sympathizers and anti-semitism. Catching Eichmann is just the beginning. Getting him back to Israel undetected is the true challenge.
The supporting cast are distinctive in their reactions to the mission. A few (Nick Kroll, Melanie Laurent) understand the importance of bringing Eichmann back for trial; others (Greg Hill) are thirsting for vengeance. They all share the common bond of horrific loss. These relationships lead to unexpected, gallows humor. I laughed out loud several times as the team comes to terms with each other and their solemn duty.
The interplay between Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley is the strongest aspect of Operation Finale. A Jew comes face to face with a primary architect of his people’s genocide. Eichmann, the vile orchestrator of mass murder, is strikingly nonchalant in his demeanor. Ben Kingsley is masterful as usual. Eichmann was just following orders. He had nothing to do with the barbaric acts. Love for country was his only motivation, not any overarching dogma of racial superiority. Malkin must engage Eichmann’s feints without being manipulated.
Operation Finale lulls at several points. The script by Matthew Orton gets too bogged down by procedural details. The nuts and bolts of Eichmann’s rendition screeches the narrative to a standstill. Director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) needed to speed up these scenes, or intercut them with more dynamic material. He does this somewhat, when Eichmann flashes back to a massacre. It’s just not enough to keep the pacing brisk. Operation Finale would have greatly benefited from more peeks into Eichmann’s past.
Operation Finale tells another important story beyond Eichmann’s capture and eventual execution. Argentina’s complicity in sheltering Nazis is damned appalling. The country’s pro-German regime gave shelter to some of history’s most prolific killers. Operation Finale holds nothing back in its portrayal of Nazi resurgence in Argentina post World War II.
From MGM Pictures, Operation Finale is a better than average foray into Holocaust themed drama. The talented cast performs well, even when the script becomes mundane. Adolf Eichmann escaped justice for too long. It does make me wonder how many pockets of Nazi sympathizers still exist in Argentina.