‘Operation Finale’ doesn’t show you the goods

Don’t get me wrong — this scene is very much worth the price of admission all by itself. Image courtesy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

5/10 Operation Finale was supposed to be a heavyweight talkie matchup between two of the best actors in the world, but the film minimizes that element in favor of some much less appetizing subplots.

In 1960, the Israeli government receives intelligence that Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), one of the last high-ranking Nazis to escape justice at the Nuremberg Trials who had been responsible for the logistics of the Holocaust, was hiding in Buenos Ares, Argentina. A 10-man Mossad team is sent to retrieve him, but Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and company find themselves trapped in hostile territory — not only are they violating Argentinian sovereignty, but the country has become a haven for fugitive Nazis. The team spends 10 days in an Argentine safehouse while Malkin attempts to convince Eichmann to authorize his extraction to stand trial in Jerusalem, effectively his own death warrant. 

The core appeal of Operation Finale is very simple — Kingsley, one of the best actors in the past 40 years, is playing a Nazi, and Isaac, one of the best actors in the past three years, is playing an Israeli special services officer. They’re locked in a room together. Roll camera!

Unfortunately, Operation Finale only gives us about 10 minutes of Eichmann and Malkin locked in a room. The Mossad team includes Zvi Ahroni (Michael Aronov), a Nazi hunting specialist who is the only person allowed to speak with Eichmann — Malkin is just there as the muscle. Instead of showing viewers what they surely came to see, the movie spends most of its time hand-wringing about the ex-Nazi’s search for Eichmann and Malkin’s frustration as Ahroni doesn’t make any progress.

This movie is in desperate need of streamlining. Trim most of the characters and roll them into Malkin — you’ll be losing some of the real-life elements, but at the same time, you’ll make Malkin’s experience even more the experience of the Jewish people as a whole.

Or, you could do the opposite, and spend more time with the other Mossad agents. Where Operation Finale spends so much time watching Malkin be frustrated that the mission isn’t going smoothly and he can’t do more to help after his part of it is over, it could instead focus on the people who are doing more to help.

I mean, there are two Jews on this mission whose job it was to sneak out of a house that nobody was supposed to be in and buy 10 days worth of Kosher groceries for 10 guys in a country full of ex-Nazis. Think how great that scene could have been!

It also would have been nice to see more of Ahroni’s work with Eichmann. Their first scene together, in which he pressures Eichmann into revealing his identity by repeating the wrong Army Identification Number, is one of the best in the movie. Not only is it exhilarating, but it left me excited for the other verbal chess matches to come. It would have been spectacular to see Eichmann overcome Ahroni in round two, leading into Malkin’s attempt.

Instead, we see Malkin moping, and Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn) gets significant screentime as he searches for his kidnapped father. Also, the Mossad team’s doctor is switched from a man, Yonah Elian, to a woman, Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent), so she can have a romance subplot with Malkin. Gross.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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