Courtesy of MGM
In this era of moviegoing, we’ve seen countless films centered around World War II and - most importantly - The Holocaust. None have been quite so uneven as “Operation Finale,” a rough around the edges drama about how Israeli agents from the Mossad and Shin Bet, in 1960, learned the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann - an infamous Nazi war criminal who evaded capture and disappeared into Argentina - and how an elite squad went on the hunt to extract him deep from enemy territory.
Directed by Chris Weitz with a tepid screenplay by Matthew Orton, “Finale” feels like a glamorized rendition of a harrowing story. Not necessarily captivating in its execution, and lacking the ambition to push the envelope further, the overall vibe feels a bit safe and melodramatic. Lucky for Weitz, he’s got Ben Kingsley front and center as Eichmann along with Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin - one of the men tasked with bringing Eichmann to justice. While also setting aside his own vigorously brutal Holocaust trauma - to heighten Orton’s approach to one of history's richest stories.
Taking place over many countries and locales - most predominantly Austria - “Finale” is desperately trying to be a solid period piece, but lacks in style. Granted, Isaac's Malkin is a fascinating study. A slick, wise-man, that tends to chug along with the first thought that presents itself. The earlier scenes with him, along with a crew that consists of Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov, Lio Raz and Melanie Laurent, seem to lack development. Tossing in characters out of the woodwork, without first granting them proper backgrounds to make the audience care. Aside from Aronov (who is stern enough to make his act work), this is mostly Isaac’s rodeo, who begins to develop a relationship with the former Nazi general, which, when him and Kingsley are left in the room to cook and boil, it puts forth rare cinematic magic. Seeing two pros at the top of their game presents Weitz best tactic of the film.
From there on out, the film starts to get tricky in its plotting and fulfillment. On one hand it does a concrete job humanizing Eichmann as someone capable of slaughtering millions of Jews during the Holocaust, which contrasted next to Peter makes for some excellent juxtaposition. But when Weitz cuts away and tries to force general Hollywoodized cliches down our throats (how many times have we heard the “If you fail...” speech) the product suffers because it doesn’t let the sequence feel earned. At times, the film seems like a glorified History channel documentary that just happens to have Kingsley and Isaac. The ending is even a tad manipulative, and while there’s justice in the groups conquest, it never rouses in the way that it’s similar counterpart “Argo” did a few years ago (though the musical score done here by Oscar winner Alexandre Despalt rivals the former).
In addition, “Finale” never digs deep enough into the roots of what made Eichmann tick - a dynamic that’s wasted - and kudos to Kingsley for turning in a decent performance regardless of how one dimensional he’s written. Still, Weitz film is important for cinema and history buffs alike, despite leaving a few unsteady narrative mechanics in its wake.
For the most part, this is a good story - well told. Yet something about it just doesn’t gel or satisfy completely. What it offers in return - the contrast of good vs evil - isn’t that monumental. But watching Kingsley and Isaac spar for the better half of thirty minutes, makes up for Weitz failing to take strong artistic liberties with the property.