Theatrically, Ben Kingsley has done and continues to do it all. Starring in “Operation Finale” as a Nazi “Architect of the Holocaust” and war criminal running from authorities, Kingsley perfects his skills to bring us a chillingly real and layered performance.
First-time screenwriter Matthew Orton depicts, through painstaking research, the events of Israeli secret agents tracking down Adolf Eichmann based on a tip. Finding and confirming his identity and then abducting him was the easy part of the assignment. Getting him out of the Nazi-supportive country of Argentina was death-defying, taking 11 days with authorities hot on their trail.
To allow Eichmann, aka Ricardo Klement, to leave the country, a signed permission was necessary, and one agent was compelled to rise above the techniques his slain family had received from Eichmann’s underlings in order to obtain this document.
The horrific stories from the Holocaust continue to arise, reminding us of the depths to which people can sink, taking away not only life but humanity. Director Chris Weitz opens the film with strikingly raw information set in white type on a plain black screen to accentuate the information about the slaughter of Jews during World War II. After a brief yet impactful history lesson, we are introduced to the characters in the film.
We are taken back to the late 1950s when a young Jewish girl, Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), begins to date the “son” of Eichmann, Klaus (Joe Alwyn). The identity of these young people is at first unknown to one another. By chance, Sylvia’s father (Peter Strauss) is suspicious of Klaus’ father’s identity and contacts authorities. The cat and mouse game now has begun.
The tension is immediately set and we quickly leap forward into the capture of Eichmann by the undercover team. With a major snag in this well-orchestrated plan, we see, day by day, the men’s personalities revealed and their motivation to bring this man back to Israel to stand trial.
Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is the lone wolf in this pack, attempting to hold on to a sense of humanity and attempting to connect on an emotional level with Eichmann to obtain that signature. Malkin also is a loose cannon, as is indicated by references to past assignments.
The real story lies between Malkin and Eichmann as the two assess one another and play each other’s psychological game.
During the conversations, we are frequently brought back in time to Malkin’s nightmares and his loss of his sister and her children, as well as his own errors resulting in others’ future nightmares. The guilt and the suffering is immeasurable and “Operation Finale” expertly portrays this through the dark images, suffocatingly closed-in shots and bringing to life the memories of war.
Kingsley’s performance is exceptional as we see him ever so subtly trying to manipulate his abductors. He also shows us there is more to Eichmann than a monster as he cares deeply for his wife and children. The cunning and manipulative skills of Eichmann are expertly depicted by Kingsley, particularly as the final scenes unfold.
Isaac is adequate in this role, but at times, there seems to be a lack of emotion, disconnecting the viewer from his performance. The pacing of the film is erratic at times as it errantly attempts to find a few chuckles between the characters and even a love story between Malkin and Hanna (Melanie Laurent).
“Operation Finale” brings us back to a time that should not be forgotten, particularly with the rise of white supremacy movements in the U.S. today. The film creates a palpable hatred as we witness gruesome scenarios and still shots of memories of bodies piled high, children murdered and pits of people awaiting their death.
These disturbing images punctuate the realities of this war and the pain these Israeli undercover agents have experienced.
While there are some issues with pacing and editing as well as Isaac’s performance, “Operation Finale” is an important part of history that should not be forgotten. Stick around for the credits to see footage and clips of the real story.
3½ out of 4 stars.