Nazi War Criminal Faces Justice in Intense True-Story Thriller ‘Operation Finale’
With some on the far right of the American political spectrum pushing an ideology that many have found to be dangerously close to Nazism, it seems fitting that “Operation Finale,” a historical thriller about the capture of a notorious Nazi war criminal, should be released right before the Labor Day weekend here in the U.S. “Operation Finale” is the latest from Chris Weitz, the man behind the comedies “American Pie” and “About a Boy.” Having previously dealt with a controversial subject, abortion, in his last feature, “Grandma,” Weitz delivers his most dramatic work yet with this most recent film, a suspenseful and nuanced tale of the takedown of a man known as the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley).
Based on a true story, “Operation Finale,” which takes place in 1960 Argentina, begins with, of all things, a romance between two young people. Haley Lu Richardson, a rising actress who has been proving her versatility lately, play Sylvia Herman, who is first introduced in a theater watching “Imitation of Life.” This choice of film is interesting not only because it stars Weitz’s own mother, Susan Kohner, as a biracial woman passing as white, but it is also meaningful here because Sylvia herself is keeping her Jewish heritage a secret, mainly from her new boyfriend, golden boy Klaus (Joe Alwyn). Both Sylvia and Klaus are children of German parents, and it is Sylvia’s father, Lotar (Peter Strauss), who figures out that Klaus’ “uncle” is really his father, infamous Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Lotar alerts his contacts in the Mossd, the intelligence agency in Israel, and after a chain of events, a group of agents find themselves in Argentina with a plan to capture Eichmann and bring him back to Israel to stand trial. There’s a lot of risks involved, but it’s worth it to the group, which includes secret agents Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll), and a doctor, Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent), as they have all lost loved ones in the Holocaust.
It’s only after Peter captures Eichmann that the real drama begins. It turns out they need the man’s signature before they can take him out of the country, forcing them to keep him in a safe house in the interim. Thus begins a psychological battle between Peter and this man who is responsible for the deaths of millions, including Peter’s beloved sister, Fruma (Rita Pauls), and her children. Peter’s grief is made all the more worse by the fact that he is unsure of how exactly Fruma met her fate. Weitz does an excellent job here of showing Peter’s anguish through vivid images of the young woman parishing in a number of different ways, all equally horrifying.
There’s so much great push and pull between Isaac and Kingsley. Just like he did in “An Ordinary Man,” a similar claustraphobic drama that came out earlier this year in which he also played a war criminal and master manipulator, Kingsley is able to expertly tap into his character’s humanity. After being captured, his main concern seems to be for the safety of his family, including his little boy and his wife (the always great Greta Scacchi). At the end of the day, he refuses to see himself as anything other than a man who was doing his job. In one particularly intense scene, Peter finds himself shaving Eichmann, and with his knife to the man’s throat, he asks him about his treating Jewish people like animals, and Kingsley is positively chilling with his reply, “We’re all animals. Some of us just have bigger teeth than others.”
“Operation Finale” opens Aug. 29 nationwide.