More often than naught, real life has the better stories to tell than the stuff writers make up from thin air. If you dig deep enough into history, you may just find a few gems. That’s the case for Operation Finale from director Chris Weitz and writer Matthew Orton about the hunt for and capture of the mastermind of the Holocaust.
After World War II, Adolf Hitler killed himself, but his heinous acts were not be done alone. Many of Hitler’s complicit senior officers fled into hiding throughout the world—most famously in Argentina. None were ever brought to trial for their crimes…alive. This was true for Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), the notorious architect of the Holocaust living a humble life in Argentina with his wife and son.
While hanging out at the local movie theater, teen Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson) falls for Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn). In love, their relationship drastically changes when Klaus takes Sylvia on a date to an underground Nazi rally. A very frightening scene takes place involving a symbolic spark of prejudice fanning into a fire of mob fury, which could become the rebirth of the Nazis. Sylvia’s family has also been in hiding in a way as they are Jewish themselves posing as German immigrants. After the meeting, Sylvia tells her father, Lothar (Peter Strauss), who figures out that Klaus’ father may be Adolf Eichmann.
Lothar sends word of Eichmann’s whereabouts to Tel Aviv, where Isser Harel (Lior Raz) immediately pulls together a covert ops crew, the Mossad, to apprehend Eichmann to stand trial in Israel. It is here a simple plan becomes complicated. For this mission alone, the stakes are high. Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion warns the team of its importance. To most of the world, the Holocaust was just a story, but a public trial would bring undeniable proof of what exactly happened in Germany.
“…airline will only take the team if Eichmann will willingly go…to Israel and stand trial.”
Operation Finale is a mission within a mission or simply two plans. One planned and the other unplanned. The planned mission involved the Mossad, which included Israeli Operative Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), who plays a Nazi-hunter, whose reputation was sullied after capturing and executing the wrong Nazi at the open of the film. His team is to enter Argentina with fake ID’s, find a safe house to conduct the operation, kidnap Eichmann without being noticed and smuggle him on a plane as a drunk passenger.
As good heist films go, nothing ever goes smoothly; the team is hardly a ghost. The arouse suspicion here and there. The kidnapping is successful, but Eichmann’s fellow German’s suspect foul play almost immediately. While the Argentinian authorities are not hunting the team, there are enough sympathizers within the police force to cause serious problems.
And then the worst possible outcome happens. The airline that agreed to help the Israeli team complete their mission gets wind of their real purpose. The airline insists they not be part of a kidnapping. This leads us to the unplanned part of the mission. The airline will only take the team if Eichmann will willingly go with Malkin and gang. They need Eichmann to sign a letter stating he chooses to go to Israel and stand trial.
When the team’s negotiator appears unlikely to coerce a signature from Eichmann, Malkin begins to establish a personal connection with Eichmann. This is probably the most controversial moment of the entire film. For Malkin, who lost his sister and nephew during the war, he must sit across the table from the very man responsible for their death and connect with him human-to-human. He sees both the monster and the man and Malkin must appeal to the man to do what’s right for the people he murdered.
“…can you sit down and have a real discussion with your enemy? Even if that person is a Republican?”
You must see Operation Finale solely for this interaction between Malkin and Eichmann (Isaac and Kingsley). If you had a chance to sit down with a Nazi, what would you say? What would you do? Two men—good and evil—sitting down and finding common ground. Mortal enemies finding a connection. Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley are riveting in this interchange. Seriously, can you sit down and have a real discussion with your enemy? Even if that person is a Republican (or Democrat)?
There are a few actors willing to play a Nazi, so I suppose after Schindler’s List, Ben Kingsley was the best choice. His performance is all over the place in a great way. As Eichmann, he’s a chameleon playing the mistaken abductee, the sympathetic I-was-just-doing-my-job I-was-in-the-office-and-never-there guy, and Nazi war criminal. With the underground SS, time is short, and it would be easy, just to put a bullet in the guy’s head, can they get him to sign the letter of extradition?
Operation Finale is a true thriller feeding off its constant anxiety-inducing tension and on top of that being a true story of justice after one of the worst periods in human history. As time passes, we forget our history, Weitz and Orton bring to light an important story that has been lost if never captured on film.
Operation Finale (2018) Directed by Chris Weitz. Written by Matthew Orton. Starring Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov, Haley Lu Richardson.
8 out of 10 stars