Unlike many of the other high-ranking members of the Third Reich, Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution, survived World War II. He fled to South America where he continued to live with his family and get up each morning to enjoy the day, a privilege those put to death because of his machinations were denied.  This only came to an end in 1960 when he was captured by Mossad agents while driving to his home in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.  

These events have been covered before in other films, but Chris Weitz’s Operation Finale takes another approach in recounting them, namely delving more fully into the circumstances that led to Eichmann’s capture as well as the background of one particular agent on his heels, Peter Malkin. While the movie does a fine job recreating the setting up of the operation and the specific events as they played out, the cat-and-mouse game we are privy to between hunter and prey helps distinguish this movie from previous productions and provides an all too human face to the evil that often dwells in our midst.

Much of the first half of the film hits the notes we’ve come to expect from military mission movies.  The team is assembled – a group of disparate people who come together for a common cause – with special attention given to the past relationship between Malik (Oscar Isaac) and physician Hanna Elian (Melanie Luarant).  While these sections are played as something that must be endured, instead of being realized with a bit of flair, the issue of why some would object to this operation comes up and proves fascinating.  While some of those in power argued that dealing with an issue from the past was a waste of resources, Mossad agent Rafi Eitan (a very fine Nick Kroll) persuades them that this is a necessary step, an opportunity to provide a sense of closure that must be undertaken despite the mission’s many difficulties.

Once Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) is taken – after the expected close calls are overcome – the film becomes a fascinating duel between two enemies.  Kept in a safehouse until their captive will sign an agreement for extradition, Malik begins to extend a certain degree of humanity towards Eichmann after he sees that interrogation sessions and other methods are proving useless.  Providing him with cigarettes and conversation, and going so far as to shave him, Eichmann attempts to explain his reasoning behind his past actions while Malik tries to see him as a person, not a monster, and convince him to agree to stand trial and take responsibility for his actions.  That he holds the Nazi responsible for the death of his sister and nephew, makes Malik’s approach all the more difficult.

These moments are a showcase for Isaac and Kingsley and both effectively underplay their roles, bringing a quiet power to the struggle for understanding these men undertake.  More than a game of cat-and-mouse, this is an examination of dueling ideologies in which both men struggle to make the other understand their perspective while adhering to their core values.  Issues of this import are rarely dealt with in mainstream film and Finale is all the better for it.

The movie would have benefitted from a tighter sense of pacing and some judicious editing.  Were it 15-20 minutes shorter, its impact would have been much stronger. Still, in ending the film with Eichmann’s trial and documentary footage, Weitz powerfully underscores the lasting impact of the Nazi’s evil and nods toward its resurgence today, something that effectively disproves those that would deny these atrocities ever occurred.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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