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In Theaters: OPERATION FINALE (2018)

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OPERATION FINALE
(US - 2018)

Directed by Chris Weitz. Written by Matthew Orton. Cast: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Greta Scacchi, Peter Strauss, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, Simon Russell Beale, Allan Corduner, Rainer Reiners, Rucio Munoz, Rita Pauls. (PG-13, 123 mins)

In its best moments, OPERATION FINALE recalls the kinds of international espionage, manhunt, and WWII or post-war men-on-a-mission productions that were commonplace in the 1960s, and might star a Sophia Loren or a Julie Christie with a Peter O'Toole or a Christopher Plummer and feature some combination of Jeremy Kemp, Anton Diffring, or Donald Pleasence as monocle-wearing Nazis, along with the inevitable Karl-Otto Alberty as a sinister aide-de-camp to whoever was playing the primary villain. FINALE is set in 1960 and details the plot to extract SS Obergruppenfuhrer and key Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was hiding since 1950, working in a Mercedes-Benz factory under the alias "Ricardo Klement." Eichmann is played by Ben Kingsley, in his second "war criminal in hiding" role this year after the forgettable AN ORDINARY MAN and depicted as a captive that recalls, albeit in a much less psychosexual fashion, his role in Roman Polanski's 1994 film DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was also indirectly involved with supplying intel the early days of the search for Eichmann; he's not seen or mentioned in OPERATION FINALE, but of course, he was played by Kingsley in the 1989 HBO movie MURDERERS AMONG US). Things start to unravel for Eichmann/"Klement" when his son Klaus (Joe Alwyn), who he, as Klement, publicly refers to as his nephew through marriage (Greta Scacchi plays Mrs. Eichmann), begins dating young Sophie (Haley Lu Richardson), the daughter of Lothar Hermann (Peter Strauss sighting!), a blind, half-Jewish German businessman who's lived in Buenos Aires for 25 years. Sophie doesn't get around to mentioning that she's Jewish and flees in horror and disgust when Klaus, who has kept his last name and claims Adolf was just a relative he never knew, takes her to a de facto Nazi rally at a banquet hall, where prominent members of the city's German population still gather to privately goose-step and Sieg Heil like the good old days. Sophie gets suspicious of Klaus and his family when she hears him address his "uncle" Ricardo as "Father," prompting Lothar to notify German prosecutor Fritz Bauer (Rainer Reiners) that Adolf Eichmann might be hiding in Buenos Aires.





Bauer alerts Israel's Mossad intelligence, which launches an investigation as agency head Isser Harel (Lior Raz) assembles a team headed by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), who's looking for redemption after being disgraced in a 1954 incident in Austria that saw his team thinking they found Eichmann and killing the wrong man in a case of mistaken identity (this plot point seems to be a creation of the filmmakers for dramatic purposes). Getting Eichmann turns out to be the easy part. Once the authorities and powerful Germans in Buenos Aires realize Eichmann is missing, the Israelis will only have a limited time to get him out of the country. It's too long by boat, and no Israeli airline flies direct to Buenos Aires. Harel manages to secure a plane under the guise of some diplomats from Tel Aviv visiting for the anniversary of Argentina's independence, but when the plane is delayed for a week, they're forced to sit on Eichmann at a safe house much longer than anticipated. As Argentine officials and Eichmann's German benefactors--along with an enraged, vengeful Klaus Eichmann--Malkin and chief interrogator Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aronov) attempt to break their captor and get him to sign a statement confessing to his roles in the atrocities.


Directed by Chris Weitz (AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY), helming his first film since 2011's A BETTER LIFE, OPERATION FINALE takes some dramatic license (especially in the occasionally talky middle) but remains generally faithful to the story. It's a terrific scene for a Hollywood movie in the way Aharoni coerces a confession, but it's doubtful that a stone cold master manipulator like Eichmann caved as quickly as it's depicted here. The film drags a bit in the middle when Malkin decides to play "good cop" and bond with Eichmann in order to get him to sign a statement, and it comes as no surprise when he learns that he's being played. But the scenes detailing the early procedural work involved in the mission and the nail-biting suspense of Eichmann's extraction, where agent/doctor Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent, revisiting some more historically accurate INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS stomping grounds) keeps Eichmann in a state of dazed, barely-conscious sedation that requires the team to essentially WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S him out of Buenos Aires, all propelled by a terrific Alexandre Desplat score, provide edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Other than some flashbacks where Kingsley is saddled with some truly horrific-looking de-aging makeup that looks like it's ready to melt off his face at any moment, the actor is superb as Eichmann, even nailing the facial expressions and twitching that we see on the real Eichmann in some archival footage of his trial at the end. Despite the grim topic at hand, OPERATION FINALE is not overly self-serious and gunning for awards. Rather, it's a respectful genre piece that takes the time to treat its subject matter with appropriate respect and sensitivity while still remembering to be a solid, mainstream thriller and actually having some humorous one-liners, mostly provided by Nick Kroll as one of Malkin's wisecracking Mossad colleagues. We're not talking MUNICH here, but OPERATION FINALE is a welcome, old(ish)-school throwback of sorts, and better than the end-of-summer, Labor Day weekend dumping it's getting from MGM would indicate.

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