Can we agree it's time to knock it off with the Holocaust movies already? Is there a lazier way to summon a sense of seriousness and artistic significance than going there? At this point, it's not just lazy; it's tasteless. And no film on the subject made in this millennium is more tasteless than Operation Finale.
"My sincere hope is that people will see a movie like this and say to themselves, 'I want to learn more about that ... I want to explore for myself,' and so, hopefully, telling these stories through film, through television, inspires people to actually grapple with history."
These are the words of first-time screenwriter Matthew Orton. He's British — a 2010 Oxford grad — and, incredibly, appears to believe that he and director Chris Weitz (American Pie) just blew the lid off the Third Reich.
Maybe they don't get the History Channel on that side of the pond. But they do have schools. And cinemas. And bookstores. Plus old people. So, I'm not sure where he got the idea that Nazi atrocities haven't been grappled with.
Especially given the surfeit of films already made about the secret mission to capture Adolf Eichmann. Orton has to know of 1979's The House on Garibaldi Street (Alfred Burke plays Eichmann) and 1996's The Man Who Captured Eichmann (Robert Duvall plays Eichmann). And Operation Eichmann (1961), Eichmann (2007) and The People vs. Fritz Bauer (2015).
Yet here we have the same events flaccidly dramatized, the same historical facts variously recycled and fudged. Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann. Aside from selling a few tickets, what could possibly be the point?
Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent who took part in the 1960 mission and wrote a book about it in 1990. Though uncredited, his account clearly provides the basis for Orton's script and the reason Malkin is portrayed as the operation's leader (he wasn't). Mélanie Laurent costars as Hanna Elian, an old flame who serves as the team's medic (she didn't). When the Israeli government learns the former SS officer is living under an alias in Argentina, its secret services are tasked with tracking down and extracting the Architect of the Final Solution (he wasn't).
Catching Eichmann is easy. Malkin lets him step off a bus one night, gets him in a headlock and shoves him into a car. Once the war criminal is installed in a safe house, though, things get trickier. Inexplicably, the team's plane is delayed for 10 days. Malkin and his colleagues spend that time trying to persuade their prisoner to sign a document. The process would perhaps have yielded greater suspense had the audience been told what it says.
In addition to being tasteless, shoddily written and unimaginatively staged, Operation Finale is just amazingly dull. Think about it. This is essentially the saga of several people waiting around in a cramped space. It's exactly as riveting as it sounds.
Weitz has told interviewers he wanted to explore themes like the ethical treatment of enemy combatants and individual responsibility for state crimes. (Infamous for his "only following orders" defense, Eichmann was the inspiration for Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil.") Weitz may have wanted to explore them. But he didn't.
He succeeded only in turning one of history's most remarkable chapters into a stilted, talky cheese-fest, built around a boilerplate psycho and gimmicks like a last-act race to the airport. It's a picture that fails to prove worthy of its subject.
Let's call it the banality of drivel.