Director Chris Weitz goes the historically true story route with Operation Finale, a mildly suspenseful mainstream film that suffers from being a bit too well-intentioned, wraps up too neatly, and the tension never heats up above a simmer. Innocuous, but could be worth a look at home rental or streaming, over theatre prices.
Operation Finale opens with the Israel intelligence agency hunting squad leader Peter Malkin, tracking down former Nazis around the world for war crimes against Jews in Germany. The squad is so intent on finding these criminals that when they pull a father out of his house in front of his wife and small children, they don’t realize they’ve got the wrong man; he was only a medic. By the time Malkin (Oscar Isaac) runs out to stop his team from killing the wrong man, it is too late. Malkin is different, you see; he values all human life. One of his fellow countrymen has a different view, noting, “What does it matter? He was still a Nazi.”
Soon, Malkin and his team are given the task of tracking down Adolph Eichmann (a fine Ben Kingsley), the notorious thought-to-be dead Nazi officer who came up with the “final solution” of the Jewish problem, which outlines how to eradicate the Jewish population in Germany. They soon kidnap Eichmann, who is hiding out in a farmhouse in Argentina.
The issue with Operation Finale is that what the film doesn’t get is it’s the journey in searching for the architect of the Holocaust where the suspense lays, not the spoils. Too much time and effort is dedicated to having Eichmann sign a piece of paper admitting to his crimes (really, why not just forge his name and get out of there? Does anyone think the former Nazi isn’t going to claim coercion when he gets back to Israel anyway?). You would think the scenes between Malkin and Eichmann’s interrogation would provide the film with the sizzle it needs. The suspense never builds, and the tension never rises above a simmer.
Operation Finale doesn’t have the well-crafted search for the alleged attackers from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Munich, the suspenseful behind-enemy-lines political cat-and-mouse negotiation of Bridge of Spies, or the nerve-wracking tension of trying to get out of dodge of Argo. Nothing the film tries to accomplish stands out in any way and is too concerned in humanizing a man who was behind one of the worst genocides in the history of humankind. The film is interested in playing it safe, a bit too well-intentioned, and doesn’t show the warts of their current assignments.
The film’s best scene comes from a far too brief subplot when a young woman named Sylvia Hermann (played by Haley Lu Richardson, whose filmography has become more eclectic than most actors double her age) brings home a young man named Klaus (Joe Alwyn) to meet her father (an unrecognizable Peter Strauss). Turns out the man is the son of Eichmann, and the conversation takes a dark turn with anti-Semitic jokes that has Sylvia giggling with girlish glee. Her father soon tells her she is actually Jewish. She tries to tell Klaus but he takes her to an anti-Jewish meeting that opens her eyes to pure evil.
Operation Finale is innocuous, but could be worth a look at home rental or streaming, over theatre prices. Lets hope this story is retold by a team that has the means to take more chances with the material than the standard approach. The subject matter demands it.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.