By: Kevin Jordan
It is a good thing I like history.
Operation Finale is the story of how a team of Israeli Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the top Nazi SS officers and main organizers of the Holocaust. Eichmann was discovered living in Argentina under a false identity, captured in 1960 and taken to Israel, where he was tried for war crimes (among other things) and executed by hanging. Depending on how much of a history buff you are, this may be a spoiler. Fortunately, the statute of limitations has expired on spoilers for fifty-year old stories.
While I did not know this story going into the film, it was a safe assumption that the film would end with Eichmann’s capture (an assumption I made three seconds after the characters were assigned the mission). Knowing that, I would still recommend you watch Operation Finale because we currently live in 2018 where there are still large numbers of human garbage that will watch this film rooting for Eichmann.
If we lived in a normal world where all of our politicians and electorate still openly condemned Nazism (rather than the half that continue to sit silently as these fascist shit stains are openly supported by our President), I would tell you to skip this movie unless you are a massive history nerd who cannot get enough Ken Burns. From the little bit of research I did after viewing Operation Finale, the actual capture of Eichmann is almost comically uninteresting. The Israelis follow Eichmann for a while to make sure he really is Eichmann, snatch him after he gets off a bus at the end of his work day, then take him to Israel. It could not be less eventful, and it shows in the way the screenplay tries to insert drama and suspense into the film. It could very well be that the movie is faithful with the drama and suspense (I have not read Eichmann in My Hands by Peter Malkin), but it feels manufactured for movie reasons. In fact, the most interesting part of the entire story might be the trial of Eichmann itself, but the film only spends a couple of minutes on it at the end.
Being a big history nerd myself, I was never bored by the movie, but I could not help noticing how inferior it was to a movie like Munich. Munich is another film about Mossad agents tracking down enemies of Israel (Palestinian terrorists who kidnapped Israeli Olympians), but Munich does not shy away from the ruthlessness these agents sometimes operate with. Conversely, Operation Finale depicts its Mossad agents as if all of the agents are rookies who needed multiple tries to pass the test. They bumble one thing after another, perform surveillance as if they believe they are invisible, and overlook basic operational security principles like not paying their informants or in-country aides. Perhaps the most unbelievable part is when their arranged airline delays the exfiltration flight because they want a signed letter from Eichmann confirming he is Eichmann. This, despite the lead agent informing us that nobody knows what Eichmann’s signature looks like so they cannot forge it. If nobody knows what it looks like, why would the airline demand it and how would they know if it was faked? This becomes the MacGuffin and drives a relationship that develops between Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). The movie is hoping this relationship distracts you from the fact that the signature is one of the more absurd MacGuffins you will ever see in film.
However, the relationship exposes a handful of takeaways that relate to current events. One is how Eichmann is adamant that he was just following orders when he came up with more efficient ways to exterminate the Jews during the Holocaust. Nevermind the fact that he joined the Nazi party and SS in 1932 voluntarily. Nevermind that he headed the department responsible for Jewish affairs through the end of World War II. Nevermind that he could have chosen to defect or leave the country and go into hiding or disobey those orders at any time. We heard this same bullshit excuse coming from the Department of Homeland Security and ICE when they were indiscriminately deporting immigrants (many of them legal immigrants) and separating children of asylum seekers from their families and locking them up in cages because those were there orders. It is not hyperbole to point out how the current treatment of immigrants by the White House administration and most Republican congressmen is very similar to the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s.
Another takeaway is how Argentina turned a blind eye to the Nazi war criminals hiding there and the rising number of Nazi sympathizers gathering together. The film depicts the Argentinian police as working with Nazi groups and being led by Nazis to track down the Jewish agents in broad daylight. While we are not quite that far here, we have high-ranking White House officials who have made no secret of their anti-Semitism and hatred of non-white people. I know this is a movie review, but if we do not pay attention to movies like this trying to tell us something, I may not be able to write reviews in the future.
Given that it is the end of August, you probably are not paying attention to new movie releases. Ordinarily, a movie starring Kingsley and Isaac (with shout-outs to Nick Kroll, Melanie Laurent, and Haley Lu Richardson) is the kind of movie that opens closer to award season and draws critical attention, but it is opening in August for a reason. It is the kind of movie that history fans will find some interest in, but casual fans will not because the story just is not very compelling. The best I can tell you is that it kept my interest for reasons that had little to do with movies, a lot to do with history, and a bit to do with the sad state of current affairs.
Rating: Ask for six dollars back and always pay attention to history, or you’ll be doomed to repeat it.