Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The new thriller Operation Finale tells an important true story that may have been common knowledge in the 1960s when its conclusion was televised, but it might not be as well known to younger film audiences.
At the end of World War II, Hitler and many of his top officials took the easy way out by taking their own lives and therefore never had to face the consequences of their actions. The exception was Adolph Eichmann, often referred to as the Architect of the Holocaust, who went into hiding in South America. This movie tells the story of the Israeli agents sent to find him and bring him back for trial.
After a brief prelude, the film introduces us to a young woman in Buenos Aires who catches the eye of a man whom she brings home to meet her father. He introduces himself as Klaus Eichmann, known to be the name of the son of the elder Adolph. The father recognizes the name and sends out word, which eventually reaches the Special Forces offices in Israel. Thinking this may be the opportunity they have been waiting for to finally bring some kind of closure to the Holocaust, they send a team of operatives to Argentina with a mission they are told that they cannot fail.
The mission is successful until it isn’t. Snatching Eichmann proves to be relatively simple, but when their flight home is cancelled by circumstances beyond their control, the team is forced to spend longer than expected in the safe house with the Nazi leader as their hostage. They need him to sign a form allowing for him to be tried in Israel which of course he refuses to do. Only the team’s interrogator is supposed to talk to Eichmann, but another agent determined to get to the truth is Peter Malkin, who slowly begins to open up to his captive in hopes that he will reciprocate. They are on the clock, though, because Klaus Eichmann and the Argentinean Nazi party are closing in quickly.
The middle act of the film is a battle of wills between Eichmann and Malkin, each played by terrific actors in top form. Eichmann is played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who has the challenging task of taking a character we know from history is a monster and by making him seem somewhat sympathetic, even if that is only for the film to pull the rug out from under us later on. Malkin is played by Oscar Isaac, who plays it tough while also letting us in on his character’s vulnerability. There are a couple of times in the film where Malkin is approaching a target and Isaac shows us his character rehearsing his lines in preparation for the encounter. Operation Finale is at its best when it lets these two great actors go head-to-head, scenes that perfectly balance tension and drama with the occasional dose of humor.
We are told at multiple points in the film that bringing Eichmann to justice is an opportunity for the Jewish people to find some kind of closure. That is represented by the Peter Malkin character. Throughout the film, Malkin is haunted by memories of a woman we come to learn is his sister. His sister was killed during the war, but he does not know how, where, or by whom. The first shot we see of Malkin is him in a car, the camera shaking aggressively. This shot is contrasted against a perfectly still image of his sister. The contrast is jarring and unsettles us, putting us into the unsettled perspective of our lead character. Malkin’s need to know what happened to his sister is the closure he needs and within the construct of the movie it represents the closure needed by the Jewish people.
Operation Finale tells a fascinating true story and does so in an entertaining way, even if it never quite reaches the same tension-fueled heights as the movies it reminds us of like Munich and Argo. There are times where the film’s tone wavers and others where the production values feel closer to a television movie than a big studio production, but it tends to recover, usually in the confrontations between its two leads.
Operation Finale opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.