Directed by Chris Weitz
Written by Matthew Orton
Starring Oscar Issac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn
Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors.” This might appear callous, or even cruel when used in reference to The Holocaust and the subsequent Nuremberg trials.
However, in the context of Peter Malkin, a Mossad agent who successfully captured the Holocaust mastermind, Adolf Eichmann in a secret intelligence operation, it puts into perspective just whom the victor really was.
Such is the subject of Chris Weitz’s dramatic period piece, “Operation Finale” featuring Oscar Isaac as Malkin. When word reaches the Mossad ranks that they have located Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, they plan to retrieve Eichmann in secret and return him to Israel for trial.
Weitz’s direction is assured as we learn more about the character of Peter Malkin, and what drives him. The beginning of the film depicts Malkin as a less-than-capable officer and an even more unfortunate lover. He is a flawed human being, haunted by a past that he could not control, yet he cannot accept. His ingenuity in planning the mission is his strongest characteristic and Isaac performs this beautifully.
As Eichmann, Ben Kingsley is superb, though a little too tan. His take on the role was quiescent as he tried to blend in to a nation of supporters. He, his wife and their two kids lived simple lives and he worked as a supervisor.
The strongest scenes in Matthew Orton’s script are when Malkin and Eichmann are playing mind games with one another, one learning about the other in the hopes of gaining an advantage. The film captured passion behind their performances as Isaac and Kingsley try to outdo one another. Their scenes are emotionally charged as each lays bare their own secrets.
The supporting cast is just as strong. Melanie Laurent plays a very strong willed Hanna, a doctor and a former agent who is called back in to service. Nick Kroll plays Rossi, the logistics man. His humor cut through the story’s tension.
Two standout performances go to Joe Alwyn as Klaus Eichmann, Adolf’s young and impressionable son and to Haley Lu Richardson as Sylvia Herman. They are the younger version of Malkin and the senior Eichmann, at odds over religious ideologies and standing up for what each believes amidst a country full of supporters who would like nothing more than to see the rise of the Reich. Richardson’s performance in particular rises above her character’s principals.
Weitz is a strong visual storyteller and cinematographer Javier Aguirresanrobe captured a classic, romantic look at 1960’s Argentina along with the risks Malkin and team took to bring Eichmann back. Their work truly transports you back to that time while Alexandre Deplat’s brassy score brightens a somber film.
Despite the strong performances, the story felt overdramatized, to the point where it became anti-climactic. As each new problem arose, Weitz and Orton didn’t leave us room to digest each situation as they leached into one another. There are moments of levity and the focus remained on the Malkin-Eichmann conversations. For a 122 – minute run time, I would have appreciated some down time, but in this story there is no real victor as Eichmann is allowed to tell his story even as a people see justice for his crimes.
The victims are made whole, but they can never reclaim that which is lost. Perhaps the beauty of this story is in being able to let go of the past and move towards the future.
2.75 out of 4