Operation Character Study

In 1941, at a mansion outside Berlin, fifteen key figures in the Nazi SS gathered to decide on a “Final Solution” to what they called “the Jewish Question”. One of the men who gave a presentation at this conference was a former door-to-door salesman who was now in charge of the SS’s “Jewish Affairs” division: Adolf Eichmann. It was at this conference that plans were made for the genocide of six million Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe. Eichmann was put in charge of the efforts to round up all the Jews that the SS could get their hands on and transport them to infamous death camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

As World War II ended in a German defeat, several key Nazi leaders committed suicide rather than face the consequences of their monstrous actions, and numerous others were put on trial by the victorious Allies for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, quite a few Nazis managed to evade capture without committing suicide, forming a secret organization called “ODESSA” that helped fellow Nazis flee Europe and rebuild new lives in South America. Eichmann was one such fugitive from justice who wound up living in hiding in Argentina. However, in 1960, a group of agents from Israel’s national spy agency, Mossad, managed to capture him and bring him to Israel, where he was put on trial for being the “architect of the Holocaust”.

Operation Finale is MGM’s portrayal of the Mossad operation that netted Eichmann, filmed on location in Buenos Aires and directed by Chris Weitz (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Twilight Saga: New Moon). The film follows Peter Malkin, one of the key figures in the operation.

Malkin is played by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Promise), who is starting to become a big name in Hollywood. He really works well in this role, as at first you think the character he’s playing is just another bland, macho, never-wrong hero archetype of the sort you’ve seen in a hundred films, but gradually you start to recognize that there is far more going on underneath the front he puts on. It’s often in the subtlest of things that one can truly see his acting talent.

However, one can’t mention acting talent without talking about the man playing Eichmann, the legendary Ben Kingsley. The man will probably always be most famous for his role as the title character in Gandhi, but I would argue that his performance in this film easily deserves to be remembered among his best. He does a remarkable job, not only because he is portraying one of the most horrid monsters of a regime full of horrid monsters, but because he shows how a seemingly ordinary human being can become such a monster. You really get a sense of what kind of person Eichmann was.

This leads me to one of the most surprising things about this movie. I went into the theater expecting to watch a spy thriller. Instead, what I got was a very well-done character study dressed up as a spy thriller. This is far from a criticism, by the way. The strongest scenes in the film are focused on who Isaac’s Malkin and Kingsley’s Eichmann are as characters, investigating what makes them tick.

One criticism I do have, though, has to do with the pacing. This may be a personal taste thing, but at least in this critic’s opinion, this is the sort of story that would have made a nail-biting one-and-a-half-hour television special. It felt to me like there was obvious padding added in to the film to make it feature-length for modern cinema-going audiences. Yet even here, I have to give credit to the filmmakers for at least making the filler feel engaging and interesting. Most notably, quite a bit of screen time is spent on showing how spies in the 1960s did their work. We see, in detail, all the planning and careful work that goes into a successful espionage mission, and it’s fascinating to watch. So, even my criticism of the film is a bit minor and muted.

All in all, this was an excellent movie that is well worth your time. I don’t care if you are sick of movies about World War II and the Holocaust, this film is different and distinct enough that you should still consider seeing it. Operation Finale is a well-done work of art on all fronts.

One Response to Operation Character Study

  1. Pingback: A Big, Bohemian Mess of a Movie | Cat Flag

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