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'Operation Finale' Leaves Viewers Wanting More

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

Movie Review by Jessica Horst

On August 27, the Center for Israel Studies hosted a pre-screening of ‘Operation Finale’ at the AMC Mazza Gallerie theatre for students and friends of the Center. Sponsored by the movie’s marketing team and followed by discussion with the Center for Israel Studies director Michael Brenner and the Embassy of Israel's new spokesperson Elad Strohmayer, the private showing had it’s seats filled.

Operation Finale

Director: Chris Weitz

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll

Screenplay: Matthew Orton

Running time: 118 minutes

Operation Finale is the Hollywood retelling of the Israeli Security Service’s 1960 illegal abduction of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader known as the architect of the Final Solution. Told through the relationship between Eichmann’s son and a Jewish girl, the film chronicles the intense story of Israeli Mossad agents interrogating and smuggling Eichmann from hiding in Argentina to Israel in order to stand trial for his Holocaust crimes.

Rotten Tomatoes currently rates the movie at only a 57% critic satisfaction rate and reports that 76% of viewers enjoyed the movie. American University student Ben Holtzman says, “It was undoubtedly emotional, but extremely funny here and there.” Most online criticism points out common characteristics of historical action films, such as the lack of plot depth and limited character development. Although the movie starts off slow, it is packed with action and tense moments that capture the audience's attention.

American University alumni Jordan Burns criticizes, “The incredible story of capturing the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was thoughtfully casted in Operation Finale, but sadly the actual film was poorly written” and ultimately “anticlimactic” due to its “mediocre Hollywood thriller scenes.”

Center for Israel Studies’ director Dr. Michael Brenner also reminded viewers that, "We have to keep in mind that this is a feature film and not a documentary. While based on reality, it aims not just at a reflection of the actual events. Even though the film has some flaws––as the rather comical appearance of David Ben-Gurion and the Hollywood-esque chase at the end––it provides a lot of insight into one of the world's most amazing intelligence operations.”

Rough around the edges, the plot follows a fairly accurate timeline. Unfortunately, the interrogation of Eichmann is cinematic drama; in reality, he was quick to reveal his identity once captured. While Eichmann was thoroughly educated and familiar with Judaism and Jewish culture, he did not pretend to be a Jewish immigrant when apprehended, as portrayed in the film. While field notes tell us there were personal interactions between Mossad agents and Eichmann, in reality, Eichmann was smuggled out of the country. The film uses the need for documentation as a way to draw out the interrogative drama. Likewise, the actual operation was completed without incident and succeeded without much stress, unlike what the film’s thrilling chase scene and airport obstacles would lead you to conclude. Field notes tell us that the Israeli agents were instructed to bring Eichmann to his flight to Israel but would return on their own following their assigned fake aliases’ travel route to complete the mission. Unlike the film’s intense escape on the plane alongside Eichmann.

Beyond the thrilling military operations, student viewers connected particularly with the unruly Mossad team, all of whom had lost loved ones during the Holocaust and struggled with their own emotions and beliefs on how Eichmann should face judgment. “How many did you lose?” a Mossad agent asks his fellow operatives, causing our stomachs to drop in the audience while we listened to their stories. Injected with sobering interpersonal moments between characters, ‘Operation Finale’ reminds us how emotional the Nazi trials were to the Jewish people and the world. Though the mission was “catch and extract,” viewers empathized with the characters’ emotional desires for either the proposed assassination, private execution or public trial of Eichmann.

Portrayed relatively early in the film, on May 11, 1960, Israeli special forces apprehended Eichmann near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The main conflict in the film arises during the time between capture and extraction when Eichmann must be persuaded to sign documentation legally consenting to go to Israel. The protagonist, secret agent Peter Malkin (played by Oscar Isaac), is assigned to guard Eichmann (played by Ben Kingsley). Eventually, unresolved personal trauma leads agent Malkin to step outside his assigned role and begins talking with Eichmann. Playing into the man’s ego, agent Malkin builds a personal relationship with Eichmann. Offering him hospitable company, even a shave, they begin to talk man-to-man. Eventually, agent Malkin reveals that he lost his sister and her children during the Holocaust, which ultimately persuades Eichmann to sign documentation to legally transport him to Israel.

“What I found most interesting was the film’s ability to humanize Eichmann,” says AU student Ben Holtzman, “In no way was the film justifying the Nazi’s action, rather, it was reminding us that the Nazis were humans, not monsters. Making it all the scarier.”

Charged with the organized identification, assembly and transportation of Jewish people to extermination camps, Eichmann was hanged––the only death penalty sentenced by Israel––in May 1962 when found guilty of his war crimes.

Operation Finale could drop the long introduction for a reenactment of the original court footage from the first-ever globally televised Nazi trial. “The capture of Adolf Eichmann was a real turning point in Israel's history. For the first time, the Holocaust became a major topic of discussion, when people listened to the life broadcasting,” says Dr. Brenner. “It broke a wall of silence, which many survivors needed to begin their normal lives in the Jewish state.”

During the trial, Eichmann presented himself as many Nazis on trial had, as an obedient administrator who carried out his assigned duties. “I couldn’t help myself; I had orders, but I had nothing to do with the business,” protested Eichmann as he denied his responsibility in orchestrating the death of over 6 million people, insisting that he had not violated any law during the war. Though Eichmann denied personal responsibility, he could not help but seem proud of his effective and efficient procedures. Ben Kingsley pulled off the complicated character, conveying the controversial trial, public tragedy, and the heart-rendering need for retribution.

Operation Finale should be credited for being a captivating watch. Movie enthusiasts may leave the film wanting more but will be satisfied with the quality of acting and dialogue. If you’re a history buff or an action fanatic, grab a friend and see it in theaters.

Jess is from New Holland, Pennsylvania and a senior in the Kogod School of Business. Jess is the co-founder of Student Israelity and is responsible for website management and design. As a program's assistant at the Center for Israel Studies, she has particularly developed her interest in Israel’s agricultural and sustainability practices. Now a Hasbara Fellow, Jess recently returned from a three-month stay in Israel.

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