‘Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale’ a post-WWII po­lit­i­cal thriller

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MOVIES - BY KATIE WALSH

There’s some­thing very fa­mil­iar about “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale,” writ­ten by de­but screen­writer Matthew Or­ton and di­rected by Chris Weitz.

The film chron­i­cles the thrilling, stranger-than-fic­tion, 1960 Mos­sad op­er­a­tion to kid­nap prin­ci­pal Holo­caust ar­chi­tect Adolf Eich­mann from Ar­gentina and ex­tra­dite him to Is­rael to be tried for war crimes.

The event was de­picted in the 1996 TV movie “The Man Who Cap­tured Eich­mann,” in the 2014 Ger­man For­eign Lan­guage Academy Award sub­mis­sion “Labyrinth of Lies,” as well as the 2015 Ger­man biopic “The Peo­ple Vs. Fritz Bauer.” A re­cent “Drunk His­tory” seg­ment star­ring “Crazy Ex- Girl­friend“‘ s Rachel Bloom even dra­ma­tized the kid­nap­ping. So, un­for­tu­nately, “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale” feels a bit be­hind the ball when it comes to the dra­matic true story.

The ex­e­cu­tion it­self is fa­mil­iar, slightly too man­nered, too po­lite, a color- by- num­bers po­lit­i­cal thriller filled with char­ac­ter archetypes and story beats we’ve seen be­fore. Os­car Isaac stars as Peter Malkin, a Mos­sad agent tapped for the mis­sion to Ar­gentina to nab Eich­mann ( Ben Kings­ley), a high-level Nazi bu­reau­crat who over­saw the trans­porta­tion of mil­lions of Jews to their deaths in con­cen- tra­tion camps. Peter is tor­mented by sur­re­al­is­tic vi­sions of his sis­ter Fruma (Rita Pauls), who met her demise in a Ger­man for­est with her three chil­dren at the hands of Nazi sol­diers.

When Sylvia ( Ha­ley Lu Richard­son), a young Ger­man woman in Buenos Aires, starts a re­la­tion­ship with Eich­mann’s son, Klaus ( Joe Al­wyn), word gets back to Mos­sad that the elu­sive of­fi­cer has been liv­ing in the coun­try un­der an as­sumed name, work­ing at a Mercedes- Benz fac­tory. The in­tel­li­gence agency plans a mis­sion that in­volves sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping un­der the cover of night and smug­gling Eich­mann out of Ar­gentina on an El Al flight, se­dated and dis­guised as a drunken pi­lot.

The story’s de­tails are truly wild and un­be­liev­able, but the plot­ting and char­ac­ters feel rote. Per­haps that’s just over­fa­mil­iar­ity with the story. The sec­ond half, when Isaac and Kings­ley face off in a war of philoso­phies, is when the film truly comes to­gether. El Al re­fuses to trans­port Eich­mann un­til he signs a doc­u­ment as­sent­ing to the ex­tra­di­tion and trial, so the team must wait, hold­ing him hostage in a safe house. To get him to sign, Peter ap­peals to the man’s ego, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and ul­ti­mately, his hu­man­ity, fac­ing down the man he be­lieves re­spon­si­ble for the death of his sis­ter.

Eich­mann has l ong been seen as the face of the “ba­nal­ity of evil,” and Kings­ley por­trays him as a fas­tid­i­ous, metic­u­lous man claim­ing he was just fol­low­ing or­ders. He was just try­ing to pro­tect his coun­try, the same thing Peter wants. But un­der­neath the proper man­ners and mo­ments when he de­clares him­self sim­ply a cog in a ma­chine, there’s some­thing sim­mer­ing. That’s ac­tu­ally what Peter and Adolph have in com­mon, a burn­ing rage that threat­ens to boil over their con­trolled de­meanors. What do the Is­raelis want: re­venge or jus­tice?

At the 11th hour, Peter strips away Eich­mann’s pro­pri­ety, re­veal­ing his true na­ture, and wins the psy­cho­log­i­cal war. It’s a per­sonal mo­ment that sits at the core of the col­lec­tive cathar­sis Eich­mann’s trial pro­vided, con­ducted in Is­rael and tele­vised glob­ally — the first time many heard tes­ti­mony of the Holo­caust.

In the war for minds and hearts, jus­tice must al­ways pre­vail over ha­tred, and over vengeance.

METRO GOLDWYN MAYER PIC­TURES

Fac­ing cam­era from left, Me­lanie Lau­rent as Hanna Regev, Os­car Isaac as Peter Malkin, Nick Kroll as Rafi Ei­tan, Michael Aronov as Zvi Aha­roni and Greg Hill as Moshe Ta­bor in “Op­er­a­tion Fi­nale.”

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