Starring Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Michael Aronov, Peter Strauss, Ohad Knoller, Greta Scacchi, Simon Russell Beale
Written by Matthew Orton
Directed by Chris Weitz
Produced by Fred Berger, Oscar Isaac, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Jason Spire
Music by Alexander Desplat
Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe
Edited by Pamela Martin
“Operation Finale,” the true story about a dedicated, smart and honor-bound group of Israeli Mossad agents who, in the early 1960s, tracked down Nazi monster, murderer and Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann in South America, captured him, convinced him to agree to be brought back to Israel alive and be tried in a court of law, and then safely brought Eichmann back to Israel for a courtroom trial, is an excellent, thoroughly impressive film on every level–featuring a dedicated, disciplined ensemble cast who remain grounded and believable amid a larger-than-life spy tale, down-to-earth, controlled direction, period-perfect production design, set design and art direction, and a true story that includes intelligent, straightforward, realistic dialogue that continually propels the story and its larger meanings and messages forward—and, in the end, this true-to-life intrigue and suspense movie can instantly be praised as the best movie released so far in 2018. That’s right—easily, the best movie released so far in 2018.
“Operation Finale” is outstanding, and, in these currently divisive, explosive, politically-charged times in which hate groups, hate crimes, white nationalist groups, white nationalist crimes, anti-Semitic groups and crimes, and racially-oriented crimes are suddenly, frighteningly, horribly on the rise in the United States and worldwide, there literally is not a more important, probing and analytical film to see than “Operation Finale.”
It’s incredibly sad to have to note that a film about atrocities, murder, racism and anti-Semitism committed by the insane Nazis during World War II—a whopping seventy-three years after the end of the war—should still have to relay important messages, meanings, themes and lessons about the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, prejudice and general ignorance in these areas in 2018 due to continuing problems in these areas. It’s the same thought that occurs after watching any modern-day film that warns about stupidity, ignorance, atrocities and idiocy that occurs in any area of the past: It’s just amazing that we still have to deal with such ignorance and stupidity in modern times. That may sound innocent, because everyone knows the world is continually filled with stupid, ignorant, racist and anti-Semitic people, but it’s not an innocent thought, because everyone knows that, concurrently, the world has also progressed on incredible levels in all of these areas. But, apparently, there is still much work to do—even in the supposedly-enlightened United States. A look at the news every day shows that the United States still has much work to do—and that is why enlightened, important, message-laden films such as “Operation Finale” are a must-see film experience.
After World War, alas, several Nazi officials, murderers, psychos and planners of the Holocaust, which ended up murdering more than 6 million people from throughout Europe and Eastern Europe and elsewhere, escaped to South America, where similar racist and prejudiced government officials in several countries secretly kept the Nazis hidden. Meanwhile, several of those South American government officials were busy trying to create their own anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, racist programs and policies, seeming to have immediately forgotten that the war was over and the world was trying to move on, care for and rescue Jewish survivors, make amends, move forward—and track down, indict, try and sentence Nazi criminals. One of these Nazi monsters who escaped to South America was Adolf Eichmann, who, amazingly, survived the war to subsequently live a comfortable post-war life in Argentina—protected and kept hidden by racists in the government and the community there.
In 1960—fifteen years after World War II ended—agents with Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, tracked down and confirmed Eichmann’s presence in Argentina. A dedicated, smart, clever and courageous group of Mossad agents, led by intelligence officer Peter Malkin (Oscar Issac, in a wonderful, understated, controlled and still-heroic performance), travel to Argentina and plan and prepare to capture Eichmann. Although Mossad could have easily, simply killed Eichmann, left Argentina and considered their operation a success, that was not the plan. The plan was to peacefully capture Eichmann, convince him to voluntarily sign an agreement that he would be brought back to Israel to stand trial, and then to smuggle Eichmann out of the country and back to Israel with minimal danger to Eichmann, the Mossad team—and international relations in a still-shaky, post-war, Cold War political climate. Then, Eichmann was to stand trial in Israel before a worldwide televised audience—to show the world, for the first time on national and international television in such a courtroom-oriented, judicial manner, the horrors of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, the SS, Nazi organizers and officials, their atrocities and murders, and the actions of an actual, breathing, life Nazi and Holocaust organizer and official.
That was the plan, and it’s no spoiler alert to note that this is indeed what happened in real life. Again, that’s no spoiler, because the operation has been widely reported for, well, decades, in books, newspaper and magazine articles, television programs, documentaries and even previous films. But like thousands of true-to-life films where the stories are already well-known, the enjoyment, entertainment—and, still, the suspense, action and intrigue—in “Operation Finale” are successfully delivered through watching the spycraft, intelligence details of exactly how these clever Mossad agents approached, planned, prepared for, argued about, dealt with psychologically, compromised about, and then actually carried out their operation. And all of this is presented, interestingly, in a continually entertaining manner—despite being one of the more down-to-earth, realistic, and drama-based spy films in ages.
That means that—to its great credit—“Operation Finale” is decidedly not a James Bond-Jason Bourne-Expendables-G.I. Joe-Mission: Impossible-style spy action-adventure thriller suspense film. To its credit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those films or franchises, but every now and then—actually, more often—the film world needs more grounded, down-to-earth, reality-based and true-to-life spy films that adhere more to historical reality than stunts, spectacles, explosions, chases, extended fights and fantasy spy elements. Thus, “Operation Finale” recalls, again, to its credit, the equally-excellent historical spy films “Munich” (from 2005, and directed by Steven Spielberg) and “Bridge of Spies” (from 2015, also directed by Steven Spielberg) and other, similarly grounded, more realistic, dramatic spy films (some historical, some based on historical events) such as “Argo” (2012), “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985), “Daniel” (1983), “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (the film version, in this case, from 2011), “The Good Shepherd” (2006), “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2002), and 2001’s “Spy Game.”
Obviously, this is good company to be in, and “Operation Finale” deserves to be listed alongside this collection of quality spy films.
An extremely talented ensemble case, led by Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin and Ben Kingsley in a brave, courageous—and, as always befits Kingsley, interesting—performance as Eichmann, propels “Finale” in every scene. Not only must the daring, heroic team of Mossad agents—huddled together secretly in an remote, hidden Argentinian safehouse—work together on their operation, they must concurrently, respectively also deal with their own personal feelings and emotions. As is the case with most Jews, every one of the Mossad agents either lost a close relative or relatives, a distant relative or relatives, or someone they knew, in the Holocaust. The urge to simply kill—humanely, and in the name of war crimes, of course—Eichmann is strong among several of the team members, but they also know that is not their mission, and they have to keep their emotions—deep, strong, powerful emotions—in check while they carry out their operation. The agents must also deal with their own inter-personal and intra-personal layers of emotions among each other, as the operation team is decidedly composed of a group of very strong-willed individuals who have varied, differing, complex personalities, as befits the best intelligence agents. This web of conflicting powerful emotions among the operation’s agents—carried out amid a hostile, threatening and dangerous political, cultural, racial, religious and social atmosphere in remote Argentina—adds to the very powerful, dramatic story. To watch these actors play these agents as real people in real situations dealing with real emotions—world-weary, every-day, personal and human emotions, not spy-movie, super-agent, fantastical fantasy emotions—adds to the quality of “Operation Finale” in superbly human and humane ways—and also brings the viewer right into the mix as the agents carefully plot and plan their operation.
Isaac is joined by the talented actors Lior Raz, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll and Michael Aronov, among others, as the proud, dedicated, hard-working and talented Mossad spycraft team. Again, screenwriter Matthew Orton, adopting his screenplay from several sources, including the real-life Malkin’s memoir “Eichmann in my Hands,” keeps the agents varied, different, complex, struggling, arguing, analyzing, debating—yet he also keeps them, again, grounded, realistic, human, humane, appropriately emotional, appropriately talented at their spycraft, realistic, likeable and approachable. Their views, arguments, debates and emotions are firmly grounded in real-life—even amid their historical, larger-than-life, grand-scale, epic assignment, duties and operations. They know they are practicing history, carrying out extended history fifteen years after the end of the war, and carrying out an operation that could have grand, important, far-reaching international consequences, yet they also remain real people, with real lives, feelings and characteristics.
Director Chris Weitz and screenwriter Orton deserve immense credit and appreciation for creating this fascinating, varied group of agents—and for not making them outrageously phony, fantastical, non-believable super-agents. Sometimes, the world needs Bond and Bourne and the Mission: Impossible team, and sometimes the world needs the “Operation Finale,” “Argo,” “Falcon and the Snowman,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Daniel,” “Munich” and “Bridge of Spies” teams.
As noted, though, the suspense, intrigue and thrills are there throughout “Operation Finale,” especially as the Mossad team figures out exactly how to get Eichmann to sign his consent to be brought to Israel and tried in a courtroom—without torturing him and without forging his signature. The Mossad team also could have simply forged Eichmann’s signature and brought him to Israel—but again, that was not the plan. In the end—and, again, this is not a spoiler—the stubborn, patient, professional and increasingly frustrated and flustered Mossad team was actually able to convince Eichmann that signed the paper, being brought to Israel and being put on trial on television before the world would indeed be the correct, smart and humane thing to do. Eichmann was indeed a monster, a criminal, a psychopath, a lunatic and a heartless, cold-blooded murderer—but lurking amid all of that insanity and madness was some slight element of humanity—slight—and, in the end, Eichmann knew what he did was wrong—even if he constantly tried to deny his direct involvement, deflect the blame to others or deny that he organized and oversaw the Holocaust—all of which he was guilty of—and he eventually signed the paper, and agreed to be taken out of the country and tried in a courtroom in Israel.
To watch these Mossad agents—all of whom were directly affected by the events of World War II, the Holocaust and systematic, government-approved racism and anti-Semitism—deal directly with a monster under their same roof is continually fascinating, dramatic and endlessly emotional. “Operation Finale’s” script, direction and acting all come together expertly to show this difficulty, these emotions and this inherent drama—all occurring in an always-dangerous safehouse that could be raided by the racists in Argentina at any minute.
Ben Kingsley deserves special credit for his brave, daring portrayal of Eichmann. Kingsley somehow brings out elements of humanity and emotion from Eichmann, although there’s never a second where anyone doubts that Eichmann is also a criminal, a murderer and a monster. Kingsley deserves credit for displaying this array of complex thoughts, ideas and emotions as Eichmann. It’s never easy for any actor to portray a villain—despite what anyone says—and it’s especially difficult for an actor to portray a villain as despicable and horrendous as Eichmann—even an actor as talented and expressive and insightful as Kingsley. However, Kingsley does indeed deliver a standout performance of Eichmann, and his portrayal is always riveting and wretched and fascinating—despite the inherent evil of the character.
And there’s another positive element of “Operation Finale”—the film exposes the blatant, horrendous, psycho and frightening racism, bigotry, prejudice, hatred, violence, ignorance, hate crimes and anti-Semitism that moronically and idiotically existed in South American countries during the post-war years (it’s still there, just like it’s still there everywhere in the world), and how racist, anti-Semitic politicians, government officials, society leaders and community leaders conspired to hide escaped Nazi organizers, criminals and murderers—a horrible legacy for South American countries, all of whom should have faced severe, serious and continued worldwide sanctions for hiding these Nazi lunatics. In Argentina, these politicians and community members knew exactly who Eichmann was, conspired to hide him and keep his whereabouts secret, and, in doing so, ended up being just as guilty of war crimes, international crimes, obstruction of justice and hate crimes as the Nazis who they hid, protected and covered up.
In the end, the Mossad team was able to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina under cover of the night, on a plane that almost didn’t make it out of the country, and the spycraft team was also able to escape the idiocy of post-war Argentina safe, without deaths or injury—a major credit to the team, to Mossad and to the Israeli government leaders of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Eichmann’s televised trial—Eichmann was tried on fifteen charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people–was the first such Nazi and World War II criminal trial to be televised to a large worldwide audience, and the trial did wonders to bring the reality of the war’s crimes and the Holocaust’s crimes to the attention of the world. The capture of Eichmann and his trial marked a most important stage of post-World War II history, and the trial focused attention anew on the severe nature of the Nazi’s murders, crimes and Holocaust atrocities.
Eichmann was found guilty on many of the charges against him—and he was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962.
“Operation Finale” deserves credit for telling this important, compelling story, and for telling this story in such a nuanced, dramatic, realistic and down-to-earth—and talented and creative—manner.
As noted, the film’s many messages, themes, lessons and morals stand out and are to be noted at any time during history, but those morals and messages resonant just as strong today, in 2018, as hate crimes, racism and anti-Semitism are horribly, terribly on the increase in the United States and worldwide. As “Operation Finale” clearly demonstrates, the noted, lasting educational lesson, message, theme and moral of the Holocaust remains just as important today as it did seventy-three years ago at the end of World War II: Never forget.
Never forget. And thankfully for “Operation Finale,” the world gets another excellent filmic reminder to never forget.