Operation Finale portrays Israel’s daring 1960 mission to capture Adolf Eichmann and bring him to justice. It is a good attempt with some effective scenes, but the film itself lacks the tension critical to its retelling.
If forced to choose a single word to describe Israeli operations in the 1960s-1970s, “bold” would be a solid choice. Such was this operation, which is a story that deserves to be told through film. To that end, most audiences are likely to leave the theater with a bit more awareness of the ways the Holocaust haunted the fabric of Israeli society in the immediate postwar era. Trauma, whether individual or shared, is not so easily understood or overcome.
The film’s strongest moments occur in the conversations and interactions between Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) and his captors, mainly operative Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aronov).
From the onset, Operation Finale seems unable to decide if it wants to be a caper film or a dramatic thriller. From the 1960s-inspired score that is almost playful—most evident over the opening titles and its retro map sequence showing the team members’ paths converging on Buenos Aires—the film never really captures an effective tone. The mission was undoubtedly fraught with tension, but the stakes are insufficiently identified. Yes, the Israeli team is violating Argentina’s sovereignty—but what would happen if they were discovered? Would they be arrested? Unceremoniously booted out of the country? Turned over to the Argentinian Nazis and tortured? It remains unclear. Surprisingly, a short scene in which Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (Simon Russell Beale) implores the team to succeed carries more weight than much of the rest of the film. It also doesn’t help that we only really see a few of the gang; even Malkin’s name is barely spoken aloud until the film’s second half, forcing the audience to rely more on Oscar Isaac than his real-life character.
Furthermore—and with a very minor spoiler—there are two instances in which Israeli operatives are unable to extract with the rest of their team. These are moments set up to be suspenseful and carry high stakes—but then are brushed aside. Where did those operatives stay until they could get out of the country? How did they do so? Again, it’s glossed over and we just know that they did get out. Doing so would’ve been no easy feat, but the audience is kept at arm’s length.
It can be unfair to judge a film with others about similar subject matter—but comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005), John Madden’s The Debt (2010) , and Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012) may be inevitable, as the screenplay seems to effectively feel like a watered-down version of the former that ends with a sequence surprisingly similar to the latter.
The story of Operation Finale is one worth telling, but the film is unlikely to emotionally engage its audiences beyond its runtime, despite its strong concept and underutilized cast. ✯
Film Recon is a web series by Paraag Shukla, Senior Editor of Military History and Vietnam magazines at HistoryNet.
Operation Finale opens in theaters on August 29, 2018.