I can’t help but feel like I should have liked this Operation Finale more than I did. At times it is a supremely moving and thought provoking film. Unfortunately, at other times it is just a second rate thriller. The latter portions drag down the former so the whole experience is merely very good rather than great.
Operation Finale is based on the true story of how Mossad agents located Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in Argentina in 1960 and extracted him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. After being tipped off about Eichmann’s potential location in Argentina, a team is dispatched to confirm his presence and bring him back to Israel alive. The group includes Peter Malkin, played by Oscar Isaac, who has a reputation of being something of a loose cannon. They capture Eichmann with little difficulty, but then have to hold him until he signs to agree to be tried so they can arrange their flight back. This leads to several tense scenes between Malkin and Eichmann as he tries to convince him to sign. This is played against a backdrop of an increasingly anti-semitic Argentina, as the rhetoric of Fascism rises again.
The movie succeeds on strong performances. Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann, who inspired the phrase “the banality of evil.” He shows his complete justification of his actions; his belief that he can explain his actions in such a way that shows he was right. Oscar Isaac further cements himself as a star, playing the earnest agent who eventually gets to Eichmann. Also present and wonderful, if underused, is Melanie Laurent as an anesthesiologist who is there to help sedate Eichmann. Also shockingly good in a dramatic role is Nick Kroll as another agent present.
The problem is that it fills in the gaps with standard thriller stuff that never really pays off or adds anything. The movie makes a big deal about leaving characters behind during the escape, but nothing happens to those characters, they just have to take a later flight back to Israel. They all show up at the end just fine. The same goes for the thread that Malkin puts his own vengeance over the needs of the mission, an idea that is spoken about but only really portrayed in one scene. It plays his big decision at the end of the movie as something changing, but it literally has no consequences. The movie opens with a botched mission of his, but that had nothing to do with personal anger and was simply mistaken identity. The various threads never really get pulled together into a comprehensible theme.
Still, despite its scattered nature, the strong parts of the movie are definitely worthwhile. The movie ends up feeling like a well made missed opportunity. All the ingredients are there for something great, but somehow it just comes up short