Imagine a civil society with decent people of faith believing that “other” people were ruining their country. They fervently selected a charismatic leader to commit the worst atrocities in recorded history. In WWII, ten million people, six million of them Jews, were exterminated in what they called the “Final Solution, or as we call it, the “Holocaust.”
Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley plays Nazi Adolf Eichmann, leader of the Office of Jewish Affairs and mastermind of the Holocaust. We wonder how der Fuerher might have felt about British-Indian Kingsley playing this Nazi kingpin? On the other hand, Kingsley has also played Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in “Murderers Among Us,” Itzhak Stern in “Schindler’s List” and Otto Frank in “Diary of Anne Frank.”
Facing off against Eichmann is Israeli Mossad agent Peter Malkin, played by Hispanic-American Oscar Isaac (“Star Wars” series), a Golden Globe winner. Director Chris Weitz (“Golden Compass”) presents this story as a taut and suspenseful espionage thriller to extract an escaped criminal 15 years after the war.
Just prior to leaving Israel, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion explains the importance of their mission, “If you succeed, for the first time in history, we will judge our executioner. If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you. Do not fail.” Eventually, the story turns into a psychological duel, where the young aggressive Malkin enters a meeting-of-the-minds with the more mature and crafty Eichmann.
Filmed on location near Buenos Aires, Argentina, rookie writer Matthew Orton delivers a flurry of intelligent dialog filled with political and moral philosophy. From Eichmann’s viewpoint, German nationalism required a specific ethnic identity of greatness dependent on the exclusion of “untermenschen” (lesser human beings), “My job was simple: save the country I loved from being destroyed. Is your job any different?”
Although the filmmakers take some creative license to add drama, the story is fairly consistent with historical facts. Malkin, who had some history of vigilante justice, is now on a mission to bring Eichmann back for trial, alive and unharmed. Eichmann explains his banality to evil as just a bureaucrat following orders. He reminds Malkin of basic military protocol, “You can’t win a war if soldiers don’t follow orders.”
This is an important story told better than expected. Sure, there is stock footage of the atrocities, but those who feel obligated to see a story where they know the outcome should still see much more than a History Channel special. This story includes a motley crew, an intricate plan from the impossible missions file and cliff-hanging predicaments.
Surprisingly, Malkin finds that Eichmann is a rather pleasant gentleman who cares deeply about his family and seems genuinely sorry that the SS killed Malkin’s sister. When asked how he could treat his enemies like animals, Eichmann responds, “We’re all animals, some just have bigger teeth.” To him, it wasn’t personal, just necessary.
The international cast is formidable and up to the task for this compelling historical drama. The tremendous musical score by Alexandre Desplat (“Argo”) seems to pull and prod the audience through the low-key story. While Malkin appeals to this sociopath’s “humanity” he doesn’t realize he is also effectively playing “good cop, bad cop.”
“Operation Finale” is 122 minutes and rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violent images and language. For many people, this engrossing story is the first time they have seen or heard the story of the 1960 extraction of WWII Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, living in Argentina as Ricardo Klement, and returned to Israel for trial.
Assuming Germans were indeed reasonably fair-minded people of a common faith, the question is what generated so much animosity and malice toward fellow human beings? After all, Eichmann tried to get other countries to take his Jews. He just wanted rid of them. Could this happen again with a different faith in a different country, as long as it’s not personal? Or, maybe this is just another movie about boring and forgotten events.
Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: C