Release Date(s)2018 (December 4, 2018)
Studio(s)MGM (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Operation Finale is a tense drama about the logistical problems of Israel’s plan to kidnap Adolf Eichmann – Germany’s “architect of the Final Solution” to rid Germany of Jews and other “enemies of the Reich” by mass shooting or poisoning, burial, or incineration. It is 1960, 15 years after the end of World War II, when Israel’s elite force, the Mossad, gets a tip that Argentina is sheltering Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) under an assumed name. Since Argentina will not extradite him, they set up an elaborate plan to extract him and put him on trial in Israel so his crimes against humanity can be revealed to the world.
German-born Israeli Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is put in charge of the mission. He is haunted by his dead sister, murdered by the Nazis. A 1954 attempt to capture a man believed to be Eichmann went bad, so he is determined to proceed carefully. To succeed, the team needs his ex-girlfriend Hanna (Melanie Laurent), a doctor who inadvertently caused the death of the Mossad’s previous Nazi target. Malkin convinces her to join his team.
Malkin and team fly into Argentina from different locations with forged passports, reassemble at a safe house, and begin secret surveillance of Eichmann’s alleged home. Though the team goes about planning methodically, they encounter unexpected obstacles – a hot-headed team member who would prefer to kill Eichmann, fascist-friendly Argentine authorities out looking for the missing man, and a flight delay out of the country.
Though the movie begins as a procedural about the step-by-step details of the Mossad mission, it evolves into a gripping one-on-one psychological volley between Malkin and Eichmann. Malkin feels that playing to the man’s arrogance and trying to reach him on a human level is the key to getting him to sign a statement that he is willingly leaving the country. Without that signed assurance, an El Al plane will not take him. More impatient members of the team favor beating him into compliance but Malkin insists that only persuasion will work. This creates dissension amongst team members but ultimately they agree to let Malkin try it his way. It’s a cat-and-mouse game in which Malkin must repress his hatred, speak calmly, and share personal information to persuade the war criminal.
Director Chris Weitz limits the film to the capture and detainment of Eichmann in Argentina. His trial is shown as aftermath in a montage with brief black and white footage of Nazi atrocities. On-screen notes tell us what happened to Eichmann after the trial.
Rather than paint Eichmann as pure evil, Weitz shows his human side, certainly a controversial approach. We see Eichmann as a family man with a young son, going to work as a factory foreman every day – an anonymous person going about a mundane, unimpressive life. When he’s confined and alone with Malkin, we see his canny manner of trying to set the terms of his own confinement, and this is what Malkin plays on. Like a game of chess between two masters, Malkin anticipates his adversary’s moves, pretends to be won over, then counters.
Kingsley has played many a villain in movies, but he’s particularly chilling as Eichmann. Older, appearing vulnerable while tied and blindfolded, and calmly diminishing his role in the Holocaust, his Eichmann is the face of evil. In contrast, Issac’s Malkin reacts without visible emotion, though we can see he is appalled. He’d love to lash out physically, but in his opinion that would compromise the mission.
Rated PG-13, Operation Finale is one of the kinds of movies that Hollywood turned out regularly as recently as the 1970s, but which has become scarcer these days. We become invested not only in the characters but also in the narrative. Because it’s based on a true story, the viewer knows how things will turn out, but the appeal is in the details and the mounting suspense.
Hannah Arendt, a Jew who fled Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, reported on Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker, coining the phrase “banality of evil.” Director Weitz and Kingsley have portrayed Eichmann that way, making him look like the antithesis of one capable of such incomprehensible acts.
This 1080p Blu-ray transfer features an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is sharp and is especially distinct in dark and nighttime scenes. In full light, details on Nazi uniforms in the flashback scenes and the deeply-lined face of Eichmann stand out. Facial textures of other cast members are also detailed well, with no blurring. There are few bold colors throughout, and when they are used – such as in an arrangement of flowers, in a Nazi flag, or in the blue uniforms worn my the Mossad team as they get Eichmann out of the country – they contrast dramatically with the film’s otherwise somber color palette.
Operation Finale features an English 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack that nicely balances dialogue, ambient sound, and music. Critical dialogue is clear and delivered without heavy accents or mumbling. Thunder claps, gun shots, and motorcycle engines break up quiet scenes after the Mossad agents are about to get Eichmann onto a plane and out of Argentina.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary. A digital copy is also enclosed.
Inside the Operation featurette – Eichmann was one of the most sought-after Nazi criminals to escape capture at the end of World War II. The filmmakers knew the “broad strokes” of the story, but not the details. Peter Malkin became the person to empathize with Eichmann. Director Chris Weitz didn’t want Eichmann portrayed as a stereotyped villain. Ben Kingsley was cast because of his ability to bring both pathos and charisma to the character. Many scenes were shot in Buenos Aeries, some in actual locations where actual events occurred.
Audio commentary – Director Chris Weitz notes that it was his idea to have Jewish names in the credits crossed out, since they would have been singled out by the Nazis, noting that 3 million Jews in Poland were murdered. To suggest the period, some scenes used CGI and others required actual locations to be redressed for filming. The Garibaldi Street house where Eichmann lived was matched from surveillance photos taken nearly 60 years ago. During long night shoots, the crew “scrambled to get shots.” Weitz observes that “so many of the interesting elements of this story have to do with legitimacy.” Controversy arose originally about putting Eichmann on trial. Some felt this would undervalue the millions he murdered. The actual glass booth used in the trial was available, but it presented logistical problems, so it was recreated for the movie. Commenting on a few scenes and bits of dialogue he’s had second thoughts on, Weitz notes that “a movie is never finished, only abandoned.”
– Dennis Seuling