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Movie review: Operation Finale

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Posted on September 10, 2018 |
By Joan Ellis



Movie review Ben Kingsley as Eichman.jpg
Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in “Operation Finale,” 2018

Operation Finale — Running Time: 2:06 — Rating: PG-13

“Operation Finale” raises tough questions about the filming of genuine tragedies. This would be a fine movie if it were fiction, but the Holocaust is a subject that doesn’t lend itself to fiction. To fictionalize the gassing of 6 million men, women and children is to tinker with history and it just doesn’t work. What does work is the production of repeated documentaries that keep the tragedy alive throughout the present and future as a lesson never to be forgotten.

Throughout the movie, actual pictures are used sparingly, but when one is shown, it hits like a rock and makes the fictional screen shots feel almost silly. And yet that’s not a fair thing to say because the movie is a good one and the cast works hard and well. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Director Chris Weitz has filmed Matthew Orton’s script as the story of the disappearance, capture and hanging of Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann managed to disappear successfully while other German war criminals were caught and brought to trial. He managed to live for 16 years in anonymity in Argentina until he was identified and caught by Israeli Mossad agents who disguised him and snuck him past the protective Argentinians. His 1961 trial in Israel became the public focus of its time. He was tried and hung for directing the gassing of 6 million people.

Actor Oscar Isaac creates Mossad agent Peter Malkin who becomes the leader of the group that flies to Argentina after Malkin finds proof of Eichmann’s existence in Buenos Aries. Melanie Laurent is effectively reserved in a key role. Ben Kingsley’s creation of Eichmann is fascinating, but there comes the problem. As we watch his fine performance the questions begin: Was that what Eichmann was like? Were both these performances accurate? The whole cast is excellent. What’s wrong is the fictionalizing of one of the most hideous happenings in history.

The problem in this movie is that every now and then the filmmakers inject a twist to spark our interest and it feels as if someone is slamming on the brakes. Anything upbeat in this story, we all know, is tampering with reality. It just doesn’t work. Even though Ben Kingsley creates a fine monster, it isn’t Adolf Eichmann. After seeing this movie, won’t we always think of the real characters as the actors who portrayed them? We need to remember them as they were.

Every year that passes produces more sophisticated tools for research and filming of historic events. No event is more demanding of non-fiction treatment than the deliberate gassing of 6 million human beings. Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel was broadcast widely on television as it then existed. We stared deeply at a man trying to cover his own evil by being bland and blaming others. We need filmmakers with their new tools to explore that tragedy by using all the available letters, chronicles, films, photographs and diaries. That is the reality the world needs to remember.

— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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