Long after the end of the Second World War, the horrors the world had endured lingered on. For many, peace had not brought closure – millions had been lost, most notably in the Holocaust, and some of the chief perpetrators had fled justice. Among them was SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, arguably the chief organiser of the Holocaust, who had gone to South America in the late 40s, and disappeared. A number of Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) forces spent the next decade scouring the globe for these unaccounted Nazis – Operation Finale tells the tale of the most daring of these missions, the 1960 operation that led to Eichmann’s arrest.
Oscar Isaac leads the film as Peter Malkin, a member of the team who gets especially close to Eichmann during his time as their captive. A solid casting choice, one gets the feeling that whilst on paper Isaac was perfect for the role, in practice his performance lacks some crucial dramatic element. He’s somewhat lukewarm throughout, and though he seems to find Malkin’s stride once alone on-screen with Ben Kingsley’s Eichmann, it’s only to be outmatched by the latter’s superior screen presence. Indeed, as expected Kingsley delivers a highly impressive performance. Truly chilling at moments, it’s the unexpected warmth and humour he brings to the role that is perhaps most disturbing – just like Malkin, the viewer is at moments won over by his supposed humanity, Eichmann’s protestations that he was simply following orders sounding scarily more and more reasonable the longer he’s allowed to talk. Melanie Laurent, best known for playing Shosanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, plays the team’s medic, Hanna. Fans looking for a substantial role will be disappointed, however, to learn that she’s sidelined throughout the film, often used as more of a romantic foil for Malkin – it’s unclear if this is because Hanna is a fiction invented for the film (she’s the only character without a last name) or if she was simply deemed a less-important character, but it’s odd seeing an actress of her talent so underutilised.
The so-so nature of the film, enjoyable though it is, might be down to the inexperience of director Chris Weitz. Best known for his acclaimed 2002 film adaptation About a Boy, his later works such as The Golden Compass and Twilight: New Moon hardly establish him as a dependable filmmaker. Nevertheless, if this is the first in a career-changing string of films for Weitz, he’s off to a decent start; perhaps the ambition of jumping straight to a Nazi drama was the artistic push he needed.
As with much of the film, the editing is here and there. On the one hand, dramatic flashbacks to Eichmann’s grisly SS duties intercut conversations between him and Malkin perfectly, each of their sessions more intense than the last. On the other, action sequences invariably come across as clunky – the climactic ‘chase’ towards the end of the film just lacks the tension it deserves, and subsequently proves an unsatisfying resolution for the mission.
Additionally, the soundtrack, provided by two-time academy award winner Alexandre Desplat, is surprisingly inconsistent. Although some scenes, particularly Eichmann’s conversations with Malkin, are scored excellently, in others the soundtrack is nothing short of jaunty – the main theme, for example, sounds like a piece that would be more at home in Catch Me if You Can than a drama centred around a Nazi war criminal. Despite this, in its more sombre moments the soundtrack is more than fitting; the ending track, named ‘Sorrow’, is particularly powerful.
At times gripping, and an Operation Finale is a fine foray into history that’s worth a watch for anyone on Netflix. Although it is lacking in several key places, it’s an enjoyable, heartfelt drama and a decent take on an almost unadapted period of world history.