D: Chris Weitz / 123m
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Michael Aronov, Greta Scacchi, Pêpê Rapazote, Peter Strauss, Simon Russell Beale
In Buenos Aires in 1960, a young woman called Sylvia Hermann (Richardson) begins dating a young man, Klaus (Alwyn), who tells her he lives with his uncle, who has been looking after him since his father died in World War II. The kindly uncle actually is his father, Adolf Eichmann (Kingsley), long wanted for war crimes, and now the focus of an Israeli attempt to kidnap him and bring him to trial. Mossad assembles a team that includes Peter Malkin (Isaac), a brash, opportunistic agent who was involved in a previous attempt to capture Eichmann that ended tragically; Rafi Eitan (Kroll), an intelligence specialist; and Hanna Elian (Laurent), a doctor and former agent. The team travels to Buenos Aires where they organise a safe house, and plot Eichmann’s abduction. Once captured, though, they find themselves with a problem: the only way they can get Eichmann out of the country is on an El Al plane that’s scheduled to leave in ten days’ time. But first, El Al wants a signed affidavit from Eichmann that he is willing to travel to Israel to stand trial…
The capture and subsequent “extradition” of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina to Israel in May 1960 has all the hallmarks of an exciting adventure story, with the Mossad team working in secrecy, and under the very real threat of being captured by the Argentinian police and finding themselves put on trial for espionage. And that’s without the substantial number of Nazis and Nazi sympathisers living in Buenos Aires at the time, who would most likely have had them killed on the spot. Eichmann’s capture was a huge coup for the Israelis, and though Operation Finale conflates much of the background detail – e.g. Sylvia Hermann began dating Klaus Eichmann in 1956 – it remains true to the spirit and the general sequence of events that saw one of the principle architects of the Final Solution finally brought to justice. However, Matthew Orton’s screenplay only provides an occasional sense of the danger Malkin and his colleagues were facing, and director Chris Weitz doesn’t seem able to make the movie as tense and exciting as it should be. Instead, we’re treated to a number of scenes where the team debate whether or not to kill Eichmann there and then (even though that’s not the mission), and several repetitive scenes where they endeavour to get him to sign El Al’s affidavit, but to no avail.
It’s a shame, as though this is a distinct improvement on The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996), it never really gels as the historical thriller that was so clearly intended. The performances are uniformly good, with Kingsley subdued yet calculating as Eichmann, and Aronov matching him for intensity as chief interrogator Zvi Aharoni, but they’re in service to material that is often dry and unimaginative. Dramatic flourishes such as flashbacks to the death of Malkin’s sister (which put Eichmann unconvincingly at the scene), and a party where the entire gathering shouts “Sieg Heil!” and gives the Nazi salute over and over, stand out because they are more emotive, but elsewhere the movie treads an even keel and rarely strays from feeling perfunctory and ever so slightly mannered. Even the last minute race against time to get to the airport with the police on the team’s tail is less than exciting, just another cog in the story’s wheel that the makers feel obliged to turn for the audience’s sake. It’s another moment of restrained pretence in a movie that lacks the kind of emotional impact such a dramatic story truly deserves.
Rating: 5/10 – despite the good use of Argentinian locations, and David Brisbin’s detailed production design, Operation Finale feels more like the cinematic equivalent of a first draft than a finished product; with a handful of soap opera elements that further dilute the drama, the movie is too broad and too uneven in its approach to be anywhere near successful, but on its own terms it will suffice until the next interpretation comes along.