Operation Finale movie review: A film about a high-stakes secret operation is curiously lacking in dread
Although it deals with a fantastic subject, boasts of a superb cast, and makes an honest attempt to tell a remarkable story, Operation Finale ends up delivering a rather uninspired two hours
Director Chris Weitz’s latest film — Operation Finale — opens with a sharply written scene. It’s Christmas eve, somewhere in Austria. Disguised as military officers, a team of Israeli Nazi hunter spies call upon a former officer of the SS who is currently in hiding, and shoot him down on his lawn, only to realise that he was not the man they were looking for. It is this opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film — reminding us that in war, both victor and vanquished suffer collateral damage. It reminds us that no matter whose blood is shed, it is always shed at a cost.
The film centres around a dangerous extraction attempt by a team of Mossad secret agents, who travel all the way from Jerusalem to Buenos Aires, upon receiving a tip that the notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) is hiding there as a commoner. The team itself is led by agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), who has been out of action for some time after the debacle in Austria. Malkin is also fighting his own demons — the haunting memories of a sister and her three beautiful children who were intercepted in the middle of the woods by Nazi soldiers and brutally tortured and killed. Eichmann, known as the architect of ‘The Final Solution’, planned and implemented the successful transportation and subsequent systematic execution of over six million Jews during World War II. Malkin and his team’s job is to locate, capture and successfully extract Eichmann from Buenos Aires — all without raising the suspicion of the Argentinian government, which is known to turn down formal extradition requests — so that he can be brought to the courts in Jerusalem to stand trial for his crimes during the war.
While the first half of the 120-minute film is set up brilliantly and due time is devoted to portraying how a chance encounter between a young man and a girl leads to the startling discovery of the fact that Eichmann is hiding in Argentina, the second is spent in Malkin trying to talk Eichmann into signing a declaration that he is willing to come to Jerusalem of his own accord. Notwithstanding the fact that Malkin is shown to do this while constantly fighting back a seething urge to avenge the merciless deaths of his sister and her children, it is the events of this second half whose credibility comes under serious doubt. I, for one, found it extremely difficult to believe that the most notorious, ruthless, cold blooded and level-headed Nazi leader would sign his own death wish so easily, merely because Malkin is a smooth talker and has appealed to his humanity. Irrespective of the historical accuracy of the events around this voluntary signature, I found this part of the film rather insipid.
There are several moments in the film which will remind you of other famous films. A spirited speech by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion seems remarkably close to an emotional scene involving another Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. The scenes where Ben Kingsley’s character Eichmann is held in captivity in a safehouse will remind you of yet another Ben Kingsley film — Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden — in which an unstable and disturbed middle-aged woman holds a house guest (Kingsley) hostage in her seaside cottage. That is not to say that the said sequences in Operation Finale are plagiarised — no, not by any stretch of imagination. But the way they have been constructed and mounted comes across as an inspiration from the films referred to. Despite such glorious inspirations, one of the biggest problems with the film is that it tends to oversimplify the entire operation. There is hardly any sense of dread, of a clandestine operative team’s true intentions being discovered in the heart of a foreign land.
What really works in the film are the chilling depictions of the crimes against the Jews during the war. These scenes are bound to make your blood boil, and to be honest, when you see the architect of it all playing a charming and honourable gentleman trying to be nice to the people of a more liberated generation, it does feel a little fake. The vicious villain’s charm of courtesy and general sense of likeability is a trump card that has been played once too often, and in Operation Finale, it seems to have been played a little too early and with a bit of overconfidence, to boot. The result is a slightly artificial Kingsley, who never quite comes across as the devil incarnate. I would rather he would have been depicted as a cautious, calculating mind manipulator, whose intelligence preceded his courtesy.
Oscar Isaac too is brilliant, but only in parts. His relationships with his widowed mother and an estranged colleague and team member (Melanie Laurent, in a shockingly underutilised role) are both beautifully captured. But that’s about all I could say about him. In fact, it is some of the non-lead actors who shine in the film — chief among them being Michael Aronov as the team’s skilled interrogator, secret agent Zvi Aharoni.
Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by Operation Finale. Although it deals with a fantastic subject, boasts of a superb cast, and makes an honest attempt to tell a remarkable story, it ends up delivering a rather uninspired two hours. A good one-time watch, at best.
Operation Finale is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
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