"OPERATION FINALE"— 3 stars — Ben Kingsley, Oscar Isaac, Melanie Laurent, Joe Alwyn; PG-13 (disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language); In general release
For “Operation Finale,” Sir Ben Kingsley returns to a familiar subject, albeit from a more villainous angle.
Chris Weitz’s film recounts the true story of a small group of Israeli operatives who attempt to bring Holocaust criminal Adolf Eichmann to justice.
The film is set in 1960, years after most Nazi leaders have already committed suicide or faced judgment at the Nuremberg Trials. Eichmann, the SS officer known as the “author of the Final Solution,” has evaded capture, eventually settling in Buenos Aires under an assumed name amid a growing Argentine antisemitic movement.
When a Jewish girl named Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn), Mossad forces are alerted that their long search may be over. Led by a longtime operative named Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), a clandestine team is sent to Argentina with a plan to abduct the ex-Nazi and bring him back to Israel to face justice.
Like most members of the team, which includes his ex-girlfriend Hanna (Melanie Laurent), Malkin struggles with the idea of taking Eichmann alive. Most everyone involved lost multiple family members to Nazi oppression, and Malkin is haunted by the loss of his sister Fruma (Rita Pauls) and her three children.
Weitz walks us through the meticulous process of planning and executing the abduction, meant to take place amid the local distraction of Argentina’s 150th anniversary celebration. But “Operation Finale’s” story really gets started once the team apprehends Eichmann, then discovers they will have to hold him captive in a Buenos Aires safe house for over a week before they can secure safe passage home.
The team is warned of Eichmann’s manipulative and duplicitous powers, but Malkin eventually opens a conversation with his captive, initiating a psychological game of cat and mouse that forces him to face the depth of his emotional trauma.
It’s in these scenes between Eichmann and Malkin that Kingsley shines, performing with the kind of spot-on resonance that leaves you thinking he’s truly the only actor for the role. It’s both sickening and fascinating to watch his character attempt to talk himself around his various justifications and rationalizations for actions that cost the lives of millions, and Kingsley’s work is mesmerizing.
The role is a dramatic swing from the actor’s other noteworthy encounter with the Holocaust as the Jewish Itzhak Stern in 1993’s “Schindler’s List.” It’s also a bold challenge for Isaac to match, but like several of his co-stars, he’s able to capture the internal conflict between his integrity and base instinct for violent revenge.5 comments on this story
Weitz does a solid if not spectacular job of emoting the suspenseful tension of whether Malkin and his team will be able to succeed in their mission, but the meat of the film is the interaction between Eichmann and Malkin.
“Operation Finale” spares audiences the graphic detail of its subject matter — the film is in safe PG-13 territory in terms of both language and violence — but Weitz’s effort is still emotionally taxing, and an effective addition to a catalogue of Holocaust-inspired films that covers a little-known chapter of the story.
"Operation Finale" is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language; running time: 122 minutes.