Operation Finale is a movie based on historical fact. It chronicles a team of Israeli agents sent to Buenos Aires in Argentina to capture the Nazi war criminal named Adolf Eichmann. As records show, they were delayed several days after securing Eichmann and had to keep him in a safe house as they awaited extraction.
Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, an actual member of the team that captured Eichmann. He is credited with wrestling Eichmann to the ground when the murderer sensed something amiss. Ben Kingsley plays the high-ranking Nazi official who organized the transportation of Jews to their deaths who, along with several Nazis, took refuge in South America.
My wife loves historical movies, so we went together to see this. She enjoyed it even more than I did, and that’s saying something because I liked it quite a bit.
We agreed that for such a complicated story, it was surprisingly easy to follow. The editing felt very smooth and the story unfolded fluidly. Though I can’t say I totally remember every character’s name–there were several–each appeared visually unique and had a distinct personality which made them simple to recognize.
In fact, overall all, we thought the acting was superb, particularly in regards to Ben Kingsley. Kingsley played Eichmann as a regular man. He did not portray him as a two-dimensional villain, nor did he deliver a pompous, raging despot. Fifteen years after the war’s end, Kinglsey characterizes Eichmann as quiet, reserved, even gentle. But every once in a while, you see a flash, a brief glimpse, of the conniving, murderous Nazi hiding behind those eyes.
The filmmakers utilized another shrewd storytelling technique as they revealed snippets of Eichmann’s past, little by little, in short, potent vignettes. Those scenes eventually piece together a vision of Eichmann that is horrifying and in stark contrast to the man being held prisoner at the safe house. I specifically loved the image of him annoyingly wiping ink off of his cuff during a Nazi meeting. He wore the same expression upon his face as he wiped something entirely different from his uniform near a death pit. These little touches were remarkably effective at conveying character.
Make no mistake, however, even though Eichmann seems powerless while in custody, he is not. He’s engaged in subtle, almost imperceptible, mental warfare with his captors, and the audience is led to believe he might just outlast them all.
Though I liked the movie very much, I’m the first to admit it’s a little on the slow side. This disciplined pacing, though, absolutely illustrates the tension in the safe house as they waited nearly ten days to take Eichmann to Israel. During this holdover, everyone is beginning to climb the walls, and it’s Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin who must keep his head for the sake of them all.
Truthfully, I entered the theater believing most of the movie would occur in the courtroom. I thought we were going to see quite a bit of Eichmann’s trial. This did not prove to be the case, and I felt totally fine with that. We all generally know the outcome of that trial, but I knew virtually nothing about Eichmann’s detainment. They were smart to zero in on the more enigmatic material of the story.
Operation Finale is a period film that appears authentic in terms of both era and locale. It does not offer much in the way of special effects. It’s fairly quiet. But it’s also focused, deliberate, and well-constructed. In the end, it was nice to experience a movie intent on delivering a captivating story with superb acting.
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