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One of the dangers of making a film “based on real events” is that life isn’t always as exciting as Hollywood would like for the film based on it to be. Sometimes screenwriters have to fudge the details a bit, or insert a little action where there wasn’t any. Unfortunately, neither of these options can save Operation Finale.
One of the main architects of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), fled to Argentina to avoid capture and trial, and a group of Mossad agents are tasked fifteen years later with finding and bringing him to Israel to stand trial. They succeed at capturing him surprisingly early in the film, and then proceed to sit around the safe house, bored (and boring), while a paper-thin plot point prevents them from removing him from the country. This convenient plot point also provides a reason for Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) to chat with Eichmann enough to buddy up with him. Because Nazis have feelings too, darn it! (Nazis could also be charming and manipulative, but Malkin apparently forgot about that.)
The audience is asked to suspend belief so many times, it finally ends up being insulting. Malkin, who’s haunted by the memory of his sister (executed by Nazis while shielding her children), shares wine, cigarettes, and long conversations wherein Eichmann convinces him that he didn’t really want to murder babies, he was just following orders! He reassures Eichmann that his family is just fine, and yeah he could probably arrange for him to see his wife again. At least Malkin’s fellow officers also think he’s nuts for doing all this, so at least I knew it wasn’t just me.
The big “finale” of Operation Finale is more like a less exciting reworking of The Sound of Music’s escape scene, including Rolfe the narc and Nazi-friendly Argentines in hot pursuit. There’s one last gasp of an attempt to inject some tension, something about some take-off authorization papers, and then the film just kinda staggers to an end. It’s incredibly sad and disappointing that even the manufactured excitement isn’t remotely exciting.
Operation Finale is a film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It includes what are supposed to be nail-biting scenes, but they’re dull and predictable. We’ve got some bad-ass Mossad agents, but one of them is as spineless as a jellyfish. And if there’s supposed to be some overarching theme or lesson about evil, kindness, redemption, or…well, anything, I must have missed it.