Bohemian Rhapsody

There are times when Bohemian Rhapsody lures the viewer in with its adherence to the rock and roll story formula and the genuinely great music, but it mostly fall flat in its widely varying tone and its twisting of events to fit the desired narrative. It is a largely unsatisfying mix of excellent and dreadful.

Leading up the good side is the performance of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. He captures the look almost perfectly, as well as the mannerisms during performances. It is an astounding performance that has to be astounding for the movie to work at all. Everyone else is fine. They are perfectly good, but this is Malek’s movie. The only other person who stands out is Mike Myers, who in a bit of stunt casting plays a studio executive that hates Bohemian Rhapsody.

That stunt casting hits on one of the flaws of the movie. Not that Myers is bad, it is in fact great to see him again. But the movie does a lot of little stunt bits. They vary from mildly amusing, like Myers, to frustrating, like the weird focus the movie uses during a hackneyed media appearance meltdown. The movie is just full of these little bits that mostly serve to change the tone for a few minutes in weird ways and distract from the story being told.

That story is another problem, mostly because the movie changes fact to fit a very tired rock and roll story arc. A big part of the last act is the band breaking up, something that never really happened. In the movie they get back together to perform at Live Aid, even though they had really spent most of the year before on a world tour. I will give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt that the framing of Freddie’s sexuality as the root of his problems, that he lost his way by leaving his heterosexual relationship, was an inadvertent implication during the rote rise and fall story they wanted tell. I think part of the problem is focusing on Mercury’s personal life while also trying to keep things PG-13, so the movie has to show what is going on by implication, but it is not very careful about what implications it is giving rise to. I realize the struggle that any biopic has in telling the story within the time allotted, but the telling here feels really sloppy.

What the movie does well, though, is the music. The movie shines when it is showing Queen being Queen; when they are performing or creating music. That is the good stuff, and it feels unfortunately underserved. There could and should have been more of the how they made their music. The movie does have the good sense to end with an extended recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance, which is enthralling. The making of Bohemian Rhapsody is likewise very entertaining.

That is the problem with Bohemian Rhapsody; quite a few of the pieces are excellent, but the whole is less than satisfying. It stumbles whenever it isn’t directly focusing on the music, which is what everyone came to see. I can’t really recommend anyone go see this, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone either.

**1/2

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What I Watched October 2018

Movies

A Star is Bornread review here. ****1/2

Woman Walks Ahead – an interesting look at the time Catherine Weldon spent with Chief Sitting Bull. Jessica Chastain stars as Weldon, a painter who goes out West to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull while the Native Americans deal with the hostile soldiers and a resurgent religious movement that seems likely to cause renewed hostilities. It is good. ***1/2

Colette – read review here. ****

Game Night – I rented this to watch with my family on my birthday. It played even better the second time. I think this might be a movie I end up coming back to fairly often. ****

The Polka King – another rewatch that remains mostly enjoyable but largely forgettable. ***

Nostalgia – a meditation on death and the things we leave behind, Nostalgia is mostly just a bummer. It doesn’t really have anything interesting or profound to say as it moves from one grieving family to another, but neither is it completely without worth. It just sort of is. **

Venomread review here. **

Beirut – This is just a straight thriller. Jon Hamm stars as a former negotiator and broken man who is called back into service when an old friend is kidnapped in Beirut and the kidnappers specifically ask for him to broker the deal to get him back. So he must move between the machinations of the US Intelligence apparatus, the Israelis and different Palestinian groups to save his friend. There is is little fat, just an immensely entertaining thriller. ****

The Land of Steady Habits – Eternal villain Ben Mendelsohn stars a recently divorced man trying to navigate his new life. He struggles to find his new place and with seeing his wife successfully moving on. He forges a bond with the child of some old friends who is going through his own struggles. It mostly works. ***

Bad Times at the El Royale – read review here. ****1/2

King Lear – A BBC produced adaptation of the Shakespeare play, set in modern times but using the actual dialogue. It works. A big part of its success is the quality of the actors, which starting with Anthony Hopkins as Lear is just uniformly excellent. The contemporary setting does just enough make this still excellent drama feel fresh. ****

TV
The League – This showed up on Hulu and remains frustrating. It is occasionally very funny, but just as often is just mean spirited and gross. I don’t really have much to say about it. It accurately shows how groups of friends treat each other, except these guys are actually funny, but it highlights some really gross behavior for jokes. And I don’t mean the poop jokes. It’s fine, whatever.

Maniac – This show warrants a more in depth review. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill star was two subjects of a clinical study for a pill that is attempting to replace therapy. There is a lot going on here. It is set in a near future that is not unlike the dingy, Asian-influenced setting of Blade Runner. It does some Inception-like tricks with how it deals with the mind bending segments. It also plays out each of the characters drug induced delusions as separate genre movies. There are so many moving pieces that it is a wonder that most of them work so well. The center of the show is the development of Hill and Stone’s characters. Hill’s Owen has mental health problems and feels like an outcast from his family. Stone’s Annie is similarly estranged from her family. Together they each start to move forward with their problems as the study goes along, but not necessarily because of the study. It is just really interesting.

Luke Cage S2 – This is certainly a Netflix Marvel show, with all the strengths and flaws of the rest of them. It is 13 episodes that contain roughly 8 episodes worth of stories. The actors are good, the writing is not. I don’t know when I’ll get to Iron Fist S2 or Daredevil S3.

Ozark S2 – This show continues to play something like Breaking Bad on triple speed. This show burns through plot, with each episode holding enough for a half of a season of a slower show. But it remains completely watchable. Marty and Wendy are each breaking under the strain of trying to avoid being the target of various crime families, but in opposite directions. Honestly though, the struggles of the Langmore clan is the more interesting story that I wish would get more attention.

The Romanoffs – I still don’t know what the point of this anthology series is. So far it is a handful of mediocre movie length episodes with no connection or unifying theme. Each episode is sumptuously produced, directed and acted, but also the are disappointingly empty. It is just good enough that I am going to keep watching.

Superhero Shows – The CW stuff has gotten off to a strong start. Supergirl is tilting political in a satisfying way, Legends of Tomorrow is building on the goofy confidence it built up last season and Black Lightning remains the serious, genuinely excellent cousin. The odd man out is The Flash (ignoring Arrow because I checked out last season and haven’t caught up). Not that this season of The Flash has been bad, so far it has been pretty strong, but that it is sort of in the middle of the rest of them, the straight man for all of the other shows to play as permutations of, but also somewhat robbing The Flash of its own identity.

Colette

Colette is a biopic about the French author of the same name. It details her early life through her marriage, when she wrote the Claudine stories. It details her growth from a sheltered young girl to an accomplished writer and performer.

Colette stars Keira Knightley as Colette and Dominic West as her husband Willy. She is a young girl from the country; she met Willy through their parents. Even from the start there is something off about the marriage. She is significantly younger than him, and when they start making a home in Paris his friends are incredulous and he almost immediately begins, or continues, affairs. Willy, a member of avant garde artistic circles, has set himself up as a literary brand, without appearing to do any of the writing himself. Unfortunately, his expenses such as his mistresses, exceed his income. Eventually he presses Colette into writing for him and she turns in what becomes the most successful book published under his name, as well as several equally popular sequels.

There is an interesting give and take between Colette and Willy. At first he is the worldly teacher, introducing her to his literary, libertine set and setting the rules for their relationship. He can have affairs and he doesn’t mind if she does, so long as it is with other women. In private he praises her work on the Claudine books, but is sure to keep up the appearances that he is the one who wrote them. Soon, however, Colette outgrows him. She is the talented writer, he is just the name on the book. Rumors swirl about her role in the writing, but Willy remains the credited author, framing his success as their success, though it is truly her’s alone. When he stifles her and refuses to grant her the credit she deserves, she refuses to write for him, instead taking up dance. She also start a relationship with the gender-fluid Missy, whose masculine presentation skirts her unfaithful husband edicts.

Colette’s story is one of perseverance, of growth and change. Willy’s is one of stagnation. Instead of giving Colette the little she is asking for, credit for her work the biggest thing, he grips it so fiercely out of fear of losing anything that he loses Colette completely. The movie gets you to believe that that the two of them truly loved each other for quite some time. That their relationship was fruitful for both of them, but with each turn Willy shows his smallness more and more, up until the final betrayal.

Colette’s life continued long after the time frame of this movie, but this movie does a great job of showing this chapter of her life, of her going from a wide eyed farm girl to an experienced and worldly woman and celebrated author. The strong performances of Knightley and West really make this movie work, first as a simple romance, then a tragic one and then finally the story of her ascension.

****

Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale is a lot of fun. Perhaps a touch too long and lacking the punch it needed to push it over the top, but still it is mostly a ton of fun to watch as it goes along. It ends up feeling a touch like a discount Tarantino movie, but that is still better than most movies.

The El Royale is a hotel that sits on the state line between California and Nevada. Half of the hotel is in one state and one half in the other; the hotel concierge has an extended presentation on the set up. One night, four guests arrive at the El Royale; salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan(Jon Hamm), priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), singer Darlene Sweet(Cynthia Erivo), and the abrasive Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). Each of them has their own story and the movie shows each story in sequence, but they all happen simultaneously. All of them have secrets. Even the hotel and its concierge have secrets. All of them smash together and none of the guests leave unscathed.

Seeing all of these separate stories come together is the fun of the movie. Two of the characters are not who they say they are, two are hiding dangerous secrets. Poor Darlene is just trying to find a quiet place to practice for a gig she has the next morning. One character’s secret brings the dangerous Billy Lee, a Charles Manson-like figure who runs something of cult. None of the stories naturally intersect; the characters could have easily shown up on different days and been in and out with no trouble.

The problem is that the movie sets up all these interesting characters and stories, but ends up cutting off some interesting avenues early. I don’t mean to critique what I wish the movie was and not what it is, but I would have liked to see more of at least one or two characters that end up dead fairly early in the film. Other stories get disappointingly anticlimactic conclusions. That is also kind of the point, but in the end it leaves the movie feeling like it lacks a little punch.

Even minor characters make an impact thanks to the cast. Nick Offerman plays a character who dies during the opening credits, but he still makes an impact. The same goes for Shea Whigham as a prison doctor in a scene or two. The big one is Chris Hemsworth, who shows up in the back half as Billy Lee and infuses him with an unforgettable dangerous swagger. The main cast is great as well. Hamm has a special amount of smarm as the unctuous Laramie. Bridges is his usual excellence. The relative newcomers Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman, who plays the concierge Miles, are highlights of the movie; they are the heart. Cynthia’s Darlene is determined despite all the crap that her life has flung at her, and is also capable of thinking on her feet; she is no damsel or rube to be taken in by the various characters. Miles is that sort of rube; he buys it all. He seems pathetic and things proceed to get worse and worse for him, but he never loses the kindness that he alone seems to possess.

Most of this movie is delightful, but there is a little something that is missing. It reminds me of the Hateful Eight, which also sees a group of unrelated people thrown together with deadly results. But that movie has some surprises in the last act that ramp up the drama. This movie spends most of its surprised early and at the end it plays out just like it seems like it will. It just doesn’t quite stick the landing at the end of an otherwise very entertaining film.

****1/2

What I Watched September 2018

Movies
Year One – I saw this in the theater and kind of hated it. When I saw it pop up on Netflix, I felt compelled to watch it again. I didn’t hate it this time, though it is still more miss than hit. Really, it is trying way too hard to land ineffective gross out humor and neglecting the parts that actually kind of work. Year One is not good and there is no reason to watch it, but it isn’t the worst. **

Terminal – Reviews I saw for this were savage. Being a fan of Simon Pegg, Mike Myers and increasingly Margot Robbie, I started it up pretty quickly once I could do so for free. Terminal kind of exists in this weird no man’s land. The setting is odd, with not quite enough detail to inform the viewer of the nature of the movie’s reality. Still, there is a lot to enjoy in each of the scenes. It builds on a strange elliptical orbit, approaching its eventual reveals from an uneven trajectory. But those reveals mostly work. The ending is bonkers, but it all kind of works together. I enjoyed this. ***

Operation Finale – read review here. ****

Next Gen – An animated movie that is essentially a kind of Mega Man or Astro Boy story that is largely enjoyable even when it gets surprisingly dark at the end. And it does get pretty dark, especially for what is ostensibly a kids movie. It is worth a watch. ***

The House With a Clock in the Walls – read review here. ***1/2

A Simple Favor – read review here. ****

The Hurricane Heist – I think I love this movie. By almost any measure it is not good, but it is supremely entertaining. It starts with nonsense and just piles more and more on. I was entranced. ***

Dallas Buyers Club – Man, I really did not have the energy for this. It is a based on a true story look at trying to get medication for HIV/AIDS in the 80s and 90s. The movie won awards a few years back, probably deservedly. I can recognize the craftsmanship even as I found the movie exhausting. ****

The Power of Greyskull – A perfectly find documentary about the creation of the He-Man line of toys, of its rise to prominence and its swift downfall. It is more information than anyone likely needs about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but I still enjoyed watching it. ***

TV
Jack Ryan – I like John Krasinski. This show has really solid production values. It also has a lot of narrative missteps and is somewhere between off and off putting tonally. I find the problems I have with this show harder to forget because of how well made it is, which makes me think the stuff I don’t like is in there intentionally. Because I have no idea what is supposed to be going on with the whole drone operator subplot, but I didn’t like any of it. The show is fine, often very good, but I don’t think the season’s story was up to par.

American Vandal S2 – This is the front runner for the best show of the year. I loved the first season of American Vandal and the second season might be even better. This season deals with a new vandalism related crime and the the crew from the first season makes another true crime documentary. The combination of the super-serious true crime set up with the ultimately very high school antics that are very much not serious. At the start, at least. Pretty quickly, there is a turn, where the show reveals the deeper issues and anxieties within its characters. And it works perfectly. It remains funny, while also adding a layer of sadness and tragedy to the whole affair. While the filmmakers play less of a role this season, the subjects of the documentary are more complex than last year’s Dylan. Which is say something, because Dylan was eventually revealed as a pretty layered character. This show is just amazing. I hope Netflix never stops making it.

The Good Cop – This should have been an easy win for Netflix. The creator of Monk making a detective show. There really isn’t anything new to making a detective show. The Good Cop flubs it completely, ending up in an incredibly unsatisfying middle ground between Law and Order and Monk. It has the goofy, mystery show feel, but the mysteries are decidedly lacking. Characters talk about the main character’s detecting abilities, but he never really displays them. Even a somewhat disinterested viewer will likely figure things out before he does. It isn’t like the actors are doing a bad job. There really is no reason for Tony Danza’s Big Tony to be there, but he seems like he is having fun with the role. Josh Groban works as little Tony and the rest of the cast is solid. It is just the writing, and in some places the concept, lets them down. It is really not a good show.

Venom

Venom is a big dumb mess of a movie. Yet for some reason, I found a smile on my through most of it. Most of that is due to how hard Tom Hardy is committing to everything. No matter how ridiculous or stupid what he is doing or saying is, he goes all in. It doesn’t fix the movies numerous flaws, but it does turn a mess into a watchable mess.

Venom does a decent job of creating an origin story for the character minus the comic origin’s primary character. Everyone knows that Venom is a Spider-Man character, but Spider-Man was not available for this movie. So they had to excise him from the origin. That actually works decently well. It gives room for Venom to the be the protagonist, though they try to shove a villain turns hero arc in there that doesn’t work at all. Here, Venom is a alien organism that was found by a privately funded space shuttle. They brought back several samples, but the shuttle crashes and one of them escapes. The owner of the shuttle, played by Riz Ahmed, begins research on the aliens. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Hardy) gets ready to interview Ahmed on his news show. He confronts Ahmed with unsubstantiated information about his dangerous experiments and manages to lose both his job and his fiance. Six months later, while called to investigate Ahmed again, Brock ends up bonded with one of the alien parasites, which takes over his body.

The plot is pretty clear, but it is also nonsense. Brock just happens to be able to perfectly bond with the symbiote. It is killing him, until its not. It wants to destroy the world, until it doesn’t. It wants live food. Or tater tots? The villains’ motivations are more clear. At least partly. One character is already pretty villainous for no given reason. There is an escalation that is not really shown, he goes from ignoring regulations to out and out murder.

I’ve heard some people praise the action, but aside from one decent car chase, I found it to be pretty incomprehensible. I guess there are rules or limits to Venom’s powers, but other than a very specific weakness he seems immune to pretty much everything. So the action is just a black CGI blur throwing dudes around and having bullets bounce off of him. Sometimes it two CGI nothings whaling on each other to little effect.

The only thing that keeps this movie watchable is just how hard Tom Hardy commits to all of this nonsense. He goes full force into Eddie Brock, overcommitting to his investigative reporter schtick, then to him in his fallen state and then to him being possessed by an alien parasite. His performance is the one thing in the movie that completely entertaining. It is bonkers and weird, but it is completely watchable.

Venom isn’t the worst superhero movie I’ve seen. It has one genuinely entertaining performance amidst a generally pretty poor movie that sets it above a lot of the dreck from about decade or so ago. I can’t in good conscious recommend it to anyone, but I don’t regret seeing it.

**

A Star is Born

A Star is Born is one of the most earnest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It is a big showbiz tragedy done without any irony. It isn’t a new story, this is the fourth version of A Star is Born, but it is incredibly well told.

Bradley Cooper directs and stars as Jackson Maine, an aging alcoholic rock star. One night after a gig he stops at the nearest open bar, which just so happens to be where Ally, a struggling singer played by Lady Gaga, is performing. The two of them spend the night together and Maine invites Ally on the road with him. At one of his concerts, he brings her onstage to sing with him, jump starting her career. But as her career takes off, his starts to come down. This is accelerated by his drinking. Still, they love each other and get married. But eventually, Maine’s demons catch up with him, leading to a tragic end.

I don’t really feel like I’m spoiling the story much, as this is the fourth version of this movie and they all follow the same arc. This movie is just incredibly well made. Gaga is fantastic as Ally. Her performance feels very natural. Cooper is likewise excellent as Maine. He is doing something with his voice that really shouldn’t work, but it somehow does. The supporting cast, namely Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay (!?!), are great as well. Elliot, playing Maine’s much older brother, is especially good.

This is a movie about two musicians, so for the movie to work the songs they sing have to up to snuff. With one exception, that is a real strength of the movie. The big number is “Shallow,” a duet the two of them sing the first time Ally is on stage, but there are several other memorable songs spread throughout.

There are really only two things in the movie that come up short for me. The first is that it seems like Cooper’s character gets the bulk of the attention. The movie is called A Star is Born, but we see more of one fading than of the other being born. It’s not that the middle section of the movie, when this is happening, is bad; it just makes her feel like a secondary concern rather than a driving force in the movie. The other is that the ending song is kind of bad. There are a lot of good songs on this soundtrack, but the one Ally sings at the end is easily the worst. That moment needed to land and the song really didn’t work for me.

I’m not going to lie, I teared up during this movie. It wasn’t during any of the Ally/Maine stuff though. It was the last interaction between Cooper and Elliott as Cooper tells him that he’s always looked up to him and Elliott desperately backs his car out of the driveway fighting back tears. Stuff with brothers always works on me and this was good stuff.

****1/2

The House With a Clock in its Walls

I know this movie is based on a book, but I am not familiar with that book. So fans forgive me when I say that The House with a Clock in its Walls is better than it has any right to be. The movie doesn’t really look like anything great; it mostly looks like a second rate Harry Potter knock-off. Luckily, watching it I realized that it is much more than that; The House with a Clock in its Walls feels like nothing less than an update on the Amblin movies of the 80’s and early 90’s that have been largely absent for the last decade and a half (I know Super 8 exists).

After the death of his parents, young Lewis Barnavelt has to move in with his eccentric uncle. His uncle soon reveals himself to be a warlock, or as Lewis repeatedly calls him a boy witch. By some accounts he is a good warlock, in the sense that he is not evil, though he is not particularly adept at magic. However, his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a strong sorceress. Uncle Jonathan starts to teach the awkward Lewis to do magic, while searching his odd house for the clock the previous owner left there somewhere that is counting down to something ominous. Soon, Lewis joins the efforts to stop the clock from triggering its cataclysmic countdown.

The performances are kind of uneven. Cate Blanchett is delightful as Mrs. Zimmerman, though way overqualified for this movie. The same goes for Kyle MacLachlan, who is bother overqualified and underused as the undead villain. Jack Black is near perfect as Uncle Jonathan. He brings a sense of wonderfully playful weirdness; it makes him perfectly believable as the slightly incompetent Jonathan. Then there are the kids. I don’t want to crap on young actors, but Owen Vaccaro has some rough moments as Lewis. He’s not really bad, but he isn’t quite up to shouldering all that the movie puts on him. Sunny Suljic, playing his new friend Tarby, is likewise nothing more than fine. This is a movie where kids have to do a lot of the heavy lifting and the kid actors are merely adequate, especially compared to the adults.

The film isn’t perfect. While it does a lot of good work with practical effects, or at least digital effects good enough to appear to be practical, there are some really dodgy shots in the last act that seem out of place. Some of the character beats don’t quite land, and some seem like the meat of them got left on the cutting room floor.

Altogether, the movie is interesting. It is not afraid to leave the sadness and loss in there that a lot of children’s movies don’t really dwell on. Lewis has lost his parents and is having trouble dealing with that trauma. As well meaning as Uncle Jonathan is, he is still kind of bumbling and not really prepared to help this kid through his problems. Mrs. Zimmerman is similarly broken over the loss of her family. That loss plays into the the villain’s plan, whose losses in life have broken him and now he has embraced nihilism.

The House With a Clock in its Walls feels like a throwback to movies that came out when I was a youngster. Movies like The Goonies or Gremlins or *batteries not included. This isn’t quite as good as those movies, but it is certainly fine kids movie.

***1/2

A Simple Favor

For the vast majority of its runtime, A Simple Favor performs a wonderful balancing act with its tones. The film is a mystery/thriller in the vein of Gone Girl, but it is also a comedy. Those two things really should not mix, but somehow DIrector Paul Feig does it. There are genuine laughs throughout that don’t completely puncture the building tension of the mystery. Then it gets to the end and it all falls apart. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is so good that it is easy to forgive its disappointing ending.

A Simple Favor star Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, an overprotective single mother who runs a mommy vlog. She strikes up a friendship with Blake Lively’s Emily Nelson, a mother of friend of her child and a high powered executive. Their friendship grows, but soon Emily disappears. This sets off a mystery of what happened to Emily and who exactly Emily was. Both Stephanie and Emily’s husband are suspected.

Initially, the movie does an excellent job of balancing tones, setting up a thriller while also being very funny. That mix of tones also helps develop the friendship between Stephanie and Emily. Without the humor, Emily is an expressly terrible person. She is mean to her kid and husband, she drinks a lot and is frequently just awful. It is played as a joke, and it works, contrasting the uptight Kendrick with the relaxed Lively is delightful. You can see how the lonely Stephanie is taken in by the delightfully awful Emily. It keeps balancing the tones as Stephanie begins to investigate the disappearance. It manages to keep the humor present without completely puncturing the tension.

This sort of thriller, like Gone Girl, tends to not have a lot of place for humor. It naturally lessens the tension that the movie is trying to build. Here, largely by keeping the humor closely related to the characters and not the mystery itself, the movie manages to have its cake and eat it too. At least, it does until the final act. The tension builds through Stephanie’s searching and all the inconsistencies that she finds in Emily’s history and story. But the final revelations alternate between disappointing and laughable. It ends up in complete comedy territory, but it stops being funny. Instead of the character based humor from the start, it relies on slapstick and stupidities. It just doesn’t work.

The ending is undoubtedly disappointing, but that mostly serves to highlight how brightly the rest of the movie shines. Anna Kendrick is delightful as the perky and occasionally sad center of the movie. Blake Lively is perfect as Emily, the only problem is that the structure of the movie keeps her off screen for the bulk of the movie. There is good, real stuff with how the characters deal with loss. Ending notwithstanding, A Simple Favor is a fun, entertaining movie that is well worth seeing.

****

Operation Finale

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

****