Operation Finale

You’d think, after all the movies I’ve seen about World War II, that I would have seen one about the capture of Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann was the main architect of the Holocaust, and was the highest-ranking Nazi officer to escape Germany after the war. He fled to Argentina, but, in 1960, Israeli Mossad agents tracked him down, captured him, and returned him to face trial in Israel, where he was found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged. Eichmann’s trial was watched worldwide and sparked a renewed interest in learning about the war and about the atrocities committed at the hands of the Nazis.

While Eichmann’s story itself is a significant one, the story of his capture and eventual trial would seem a gimme to be one laden with dramatic content and seemingly tailor-made for cinematic retelling. And yet, I have never seen a movie about Eichmann. Which is why I was so excited to see Operation Finale, a new movie starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent who brings him in. I was expecting/hoping it would be along the lines of the really good Steven Spielberg movie Munich (2005), which was about the Israeli agents who were tasked with hunting down the people behind the Palestinian terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich games. Unfortunately, Operation Finale is never able to achieve a compelling narrative and ends up being a massive disappointment.

Kingsley and Isaac are both very good, but their performances, especially Kingsley’s, feel like they are in a vacuum, uninvolved with the rest of the movie around them. And that’s mainly because the movie that is around them is all over the place. Director Chris Weitz can’t figure out what tone he wants the movie to have—one minute, it feels almost like a light farce, the next we are seeing gruesome images of people getting murdered in ditches. We are supposed to relate to and attach our emotional journey to Malkin’s, but Isaac plays him like a lost puppy, sometimes confused, sometimes excitable, sometimes vulnerable, but never convincingly dramatic. The movie keeps shifting focus as well, even tossing in Nick Kroll for comic relief and a vague and really out-of-place love story between Isaac and Melanie Laurent. It all feels completely miscalculated.

Even if I could overlook the fact that the tone of the movie is entirely wrong in every way, the story doesn’t even give me what I want. There are so many details that are glossed over or never even referred to. This was a calculated, carefully calibrated operation to track down and abduct the most wanted criminal in the world. This movie makes it seem like two guys wandering down a road snapping one picture of him from the road was all it took to make it happen. I wanted to see everything that was involved, the spy elements, the informants, the tension of it all. There is no urgency in this movie, no background storytelling, no setup. It feels like all that matters to the filmmakers is giving Ben Kingsley the chance to sit in a room, as a prisoner, and send chills up spines playing one of the most evil people in history. And while I can appreciate that, and certainly do appreciate the chance to see Sir Kingsley make the wallpaper peel with his powerhouse acting chops, he deserves a much better movie around him.

I waited a long time to see a really good movie about the capture of Adolph Eichmann. I guess I’ll wait a little longer.