Operation Finale begins long after many World War II movies have ended. Hitler is dead. World War II is over. Freedom has prevailed. And yet, the scars from that terrible travesty remain for all those who survived the concentration camps and for all of those who lost people in the war.
Most of the film takes place a decade after World War II has ended. Hitler and many of his allies have long been dead but Adolf Eichmann, one of the orchestrators of the Holocaust, continues to elude authorities.
After a blind man realizes his daughter’s boyfriend might be related to Eichmann, he tips off authorities about the possible whereabouts of the missing fugitive. Set predominantly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the feature focuses on the search for Eichmann and the plan to bring him to justice in Israel.
Oscar Isaac stars as Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent charged with investigating the blind man’s claims and coordinating the plan. The first hour focuses on orchestrating the mission. It’s in this first hour that screenwriter Matthew Orton keeps the focus on the agents. Eichmann is a shadow that looms offscreen. The other characters know his name. His reputation. His heinous acts. His indifference to human life. But they don’t meet him until later.
When he finally arrives onscreen, Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) is glimpsed at home where he’s presented as a fatherly figure looking out for his young child and his older son Klaus (Joe Alwyn).
In the feature’s second half, the story changes pace as the intimacy changes. Eichmann isn’t a far-off figure in the history books. Malkin is forced to deal with him on a personal level. It’s in these scenes — shared by Isaac and Kingsley — that the film captures its most satisfying moments. The story presents Eichman as a manipulative man who can present himself as a fatherly figure when the mood strikes him. He’s quiet and unassuming when faced with Malkin.
Director Chris Weitz doesn’t seem interested in capturing a caricature here. He’s more intrigued with showing how Eichmann might across as genuine even while he harbors such hatred in his soul. Kingsley captures that subtly, showing his character as a methodical man who uses his calm demeanor to hide his darker instincts.
It’s only late in the film that Eichmann’s hateful personality comes across fully in an intense showdown with Malkin. It’s in this scene that his true character emerges and the lies behind his manipulations are fully realized. It’s this scene that highlights the dichotomy of this vindictive man.
Operation Finale takes its time telling the beginning of the story (some scenes could’ve been edited down) but the feature’s second half really makes up for that, showcasing Isaac and Kingsley as great actors in their scenes together. There are other elements — including various supporting characters — that are never fully developed but the movie succeeds when it focuses on the two characters at its center. The film’s final moments showcase an important moment in the history of World War 2, showing the importance of this mission and the power of this story.
Review by: John Hanlon