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Operation Finale

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 28, 2018
'Operation Finale'
'Operation Finale'  

Director Chriz Weitz and writer Matthew Orton bring subtle contemporary resonance to their historical drama "Operation Finale," which tells the true story of how Mossad agents, acting on a tip, tracked arch-Nazi Adolph Eichmann to Argentina, captured him, and then managed to spirit him out of the country despite sympathizers in that nation's government and police force.

If Eichmann was the personification of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil," his downfall, as recounted here, is rooted in just such banality. When we meet Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), he's entertaining a group of admirers with his version of how things went down during the Third Reich's insane campaign of mass murder. His son Klaus (Joe Alwyn) - a chip right off the old swastika-shaped block - is an ardent supporter of Argentina's anti-Semitic movement; when he meets an attractive young woman named Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), he takes her to a hate-filled meeting from which she flees in horror. Who can blame her? It's the sort of get together that features Catholic priests joining in with everyone else as they scream chants about turning Jews into soap.

That's bad enough, but Sylvia, as it turns out, is ethnically Jewish. Still, there's a silver lining: Her father, Lothar (Peter Strauss), alerts people he knows to the possible identity of Adolph Eichmann, who has been living under an assumed name for years. Eventually, the Mossad agents arrive, establish a safe house, and begin to draw their plans.

That's where the drama of this cat-and-mouse thriller begins. Eichmann has a sixth sense for danger; spotting a Mossad guy taking photos of his house, Eichmann dashes off a quick sketch of the man, a likeness that will come to play a role in subsequent events. The Mossad crew succeed in kidnapping Eichmann, but the local Nazi sympathizers quickly mount a manhunt, with young Klaus leading the pack.

As the Mossad people await their escape out of the country, they begin to experience internal tensions - a natural enough result, considering that all of them have lost some, if not all, of their family members to the Nazi killing machine. When strapping hothead Moshe (Greg Hill) finds himself getting hot enough under the collar that he might just kill Eichmann - who sits regally upstairs in pajamas and blindfold, his cool effect of superiority even more infuriating than his long evasion of justice - Peter (Oscar Isaac) volunteers to take his shift. Peter has lost family to the Nazis, too, but he also knows how to use a softer touch - not unlike Eichmann himself, who loses no time in establishing himself as a skilled manipulator.

It's in the upstairs bedroom, during Peter and Eichmann's quiet conversations, that the movie burns with tension, and with outrage. It's also here that we hear comments and phrases that resound anew in the airwaves of 2018: Vitriol about the "lying press," for example, or rages about the way truth isn't really the truth.

The film flashes back frequent to Eichmann in uniform, rubbing at ink stains on his white shirt sleeve and strolling through a forest, flanked by Nazi goons, to a mass grave where still-living Jews standing by the hundreds, waiting for a fatal fusillade. Strip away that uniform, however, and set aside the monstrous specifics of Eichmann's crimes, and this becomes a film about two men. One is trying to justify his actions with arguments to the effect that human beings are animals, noting that, in the animal kingdom, victory belongs to the vicious. The other is fighting a very different war, however: A war against his impulses to seek violent revenge in the name of upholding justice and gleaning some sort of useful understanding from the monster in his keeping.

The film offers all the other standard ingredients - there's a love story between Peter and a physician named Hanna (Mélanie Laurent); Peter himself is seeking redemption for a Nazi hunting mission gone wrong sometime earlier; there's even a fair amount of humor, much of it from Peter, with some zingers thrown in from the team's quick-witted leader, a fellow named Rafi (Nick Kroll) - but the essential tension comes from this rivalry between conflicting impulses. Burn everything down, or continue a patchwork progress? Kill a butcher for his crimes, or offer him the dignity of a trial? Build a wall against the past or a bridge to the future? These are the questions the film poses, and they're worth the asking.

Operation Finale

Fifteen years after the end of World War II, a team of top-secret Israeli agents travels to Argentina to track down Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer who masterminded the transportation logistics that brought millions of innocent Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Hoping to sneak him out of the country to stand trial, agent Peter Malkin soon finds himself playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the notorious war criminal.

Info

Runtime :: 122 mins
Release Date :: Aug 29, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States

Cast

Peter Malkin :: Oscar Isaac
Adolf Eichmann :: Ben Kingsley
Hanna Elian :: Mélanie Laurent
Isser Harel :: Lior Raz
Rafi Eitan :: Nick Kroll
Zvi Aharoni :: Michael Aronov
Ephraim Ilian :: Ohad Knoller
Moshe Tabor :: Greg Hill
Yaakov Gat :: Torben Liebrecht
Dani Shalom :: Michael Hernandez
Klaus Eichmann :: Joe Alwyn
Vera Eichmann :: Greta Scacchi
Lothar Hermann :: Peter Strauss
Sylvia Hermann :: Haley Lu Richardson
Carlos Fuldner :: Pêpê Rapazote
Fritz Bauer :: Rainer Reiners
David Ben-Gurion :: Simon Beale
Graciela :: Rocio Muñoz
Fruma :: Rita Pauls

Crew

Director :: Chris Weitz
Screenwriter :: Matthew Orton
Producer :: Oscar Isaac
Producer :: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Producer :: Fred Berger
Producer :: Jason Spire
Executive Producer :: Ron Schmidt
Cinematographer :: Javier Aguirresarobe
Film Editor :: Pamela Martin
Original Music :: Alexandre Desplat
Production Design :: David Brisbin
Art Director :: Kendelle Elliott
Art Director :: Rick Willoughby
Set Decoration :: Florencia Martin
Costume Designer :: Connie Balduzzi
Casting :: Avy Kaufman


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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