“Operation Finale”

The film “Operation Finale” ( a horrid title, in my opinion ) leads us to Adolf Eichmann and his “Final Solution” rather circuitously. The film, based on the  real life event, shows a Mossad special unit planning and executing the abduction of the Nazi fugitive. Tension is well-maintained even when the Zionist team must live with the safely harbored Eichmann for ten days.  The Argentinians will not let Eichmann leave Argentina without his signed personal release. International law is upheld, even under these unjust circumstances.

Many of the scenes show Eichmann not in hiding, but in spewing his hate at white table-clothed assemblages with rabid Jew-haters, one of them being his twenty-something son, Claus. One depressing scene has Claus hanging a red SS flag above a German Club door. War is never really over is the sub-text.

Once we see Eichmann goggled and restrained, the mind games begin. This to me is the most interesting part of the film. Ben Kingsley has the hauteur to pull Eichmann’s ego off , and Kingsley’s portraiture of evil  is frightening. Right when one  thinks one sees some human trait, it is eclipsed by a crazy nationalism that shakes one’s soul. Yet, Kingsley’s work is nuanced. Will Eichmann provoke his captors to murder? Will he attest to crimes against humanity to see his wife and two sons again? What was this strategically intelligent man thinking as he sat in a bullet-proofed box during his trial? Are all ideologues delusional?

Fifteen years after World War II, I was twelve. But why wasn’t I more aware of this Mossad success and the Israeli trial itself  three years later, for I had just read Leon Uris’ “Mila 18” and was moved to tears. I read “Newsweek” weekly, but Peter Malkin ’s name was unknown to me even decades later.

In 1989,  Malkin’s legendary work was cited in the Israeli newspaper, “ Maariv” as being one of the greatest figures in the history of Mossad. No wonder Oscar Issac wanted to produce and star in “Operation Finale” as Malkin.

Based on the autobiography, “Eichmann In My Hands”, “Operation Finale” is not the first movie made of this event. “The Man Who Captured Eichmann” ( 1996) starred  Robert Duvall as Eichmann and Arliss Howard as Peter Z. Malkin. The 1979 “ House On Garibaldi Street”, likewise.

“Operation Finale” written by Matthew Orton and directed by Chris Weisz is worth seeing, though the lack of editing causes the suspense to lag in some places. Facts like Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister of Israel, giving his assent to the Mossad extradition attempt are hard to ferret out. The romantic relationship between the doctor, Hanna, ( Melanie Laurent) and Malkin is  thinly developed and resolved.

The acting is good, though heart-throb Issac’s 1950 hair style and karate chops look a tad silly. His intensity still rivets. Kingsley as Ricardo Klement, Eichmann’s alias in South America, commands the screen just boarding a bus. Lior Raz, of undercover commando fame in the tv thriller “Fauda”, is also perfectly cast.

Real footage from the Holocaust serves to remind us that Eichmann had six million accusers. Flashbacks of horrific rememberences and imaginings are balanced with themes of justice and toasts to life. A needed pause in the grief comes from one of the shorter operatives after the trial. “History only remembers the tall people.”  Malkin counters,” What about Napoleon?” To be rebuffed humorously with, “ What about who?”

Through jostling Jeep rides and paper trails of planning to scenes of impulsive, straight-edge shaving and catch and extract avowals, the narrative keeps us on edge even though we know the outcome. If Eichmann was a “human  metronome” in his patterns and habits, Malkin is a not a revenge seeker, here. He worries that the future will look like the past. And Eichmann worries that the Jews will come back like “mushrooms after the rain”. A sobering tale that needed to be told again.