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Operation Finale is based on an intense true story, but it could’ve been told with a little more passion.

Escaping Justice

Ben Kingsley as Adolph Eichmann
Ben Kingsley as Adolph Eichmann

As World War II lurched toward its calamitous conclusion and peace sought a new level, key masterminds of the carnage decided they’d prefer to die at their own hands rather than face international justice and pay for their crimes. Of that mindset were Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. But some leaders of the Nazi party, including Adolph Eichmann, the Architect of the Final Solution, fled from the Fatherland and led lives in relative solitude and in roles of relative inconsequence.

Eichmann took flight from Germany all the way down and over to Argentina.

Maybe at first blush a Latin American country sounds like an odd place to hide. Surely sheer separation of distance from the headquarters of the devastation he helped formulate was an attraction. But Argentina, particularly Buenos Aires, also boasts quite a European flair. Walking around the city, it’s possible to forget the latitude and longitude as the streets are lined with European architecture and restaurants cater to locally-sourced fine wines, steaks, Italian fare and other cuisines. It becomes easier, then, to understand how a notorious German on the run might find Argentina akin to a home away from home.

And, of course, Juan Peron was a Nazi sympathizer who provided shelter to German money and fugitives alike.

As a bonus, after 10 years on the run, Eichmann’s name dropped away from the general public’s conscience. The wounds of the war and its devastation were healing, and many chose not to look back.

But, as fate would have it, the Mossad put the puzzle pieces together, crafting a picture illustrating Eichmann leading a quiet life in a quiet village outside Buenos Aires.

It was 1960. And it was time for justice to be served.

Hunting Ricardo Clement

Operation Finale begins by introducing Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), a Mossad agent on the hunt for Nazis. Like so many others, Peter has a personal beef with Eichmann and he thinks he finally has him cornered. But, running through the details — the number of children, the wife — he rethinks his target. But it’s too late. The team just executed the wrong man.

Peter has a reputation for being self-absorbed, manipulative and headstrong. This incident bears out his reckless tendencies. He doesn’t read up on various missions; dossiers are swept aside. But, still, Peter’s help is needed. In Argentina.

It’s a situation where young romance turns sour as a pretty (Jewish) girl, Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen), meets a Nazi sympathizer, Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn, Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk). It’s a toxic mix of sheer chance and exposed human behavior that ultimately sets the dominoes in motion.

It’s confirmed Klaus is the son of Adolph Eichmann, now living under the alias of Ricardo Clement. The target is finally in sight.

And the target is played by Ben Kingsley. Surely every interview and every article related to Operation Finale will note Kingsley also played Itzhak Stern, Oskar Schindler’s right-hand man, in Schindler’s List. Now he’s covered both sides of the story.

Finding 45326

As for that story, it’s a good one. The patience, the perseverance, the challenges. They’re all touched on to the extent a 2-hour drama can cover such things. And it all makes for an impressive screenwriting debut for Matthew Orton.

But seasoned director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) could’ve done more to ratchet up the tension.

Sure, part of the story is a mental tango. It involves the relationship-building between Malkin and Eichmann. A shave. Wine. Cigarettes. Conversation. Showing Eichmann a level of respect he refused to give to millions upon millions. Despite being on diametrically-opposed sides of the situation, Peter ultimately needs Adolph’s cooperation in order to get the machinery in motion that will finally send Eichmann to a trial in Jerusalem.

The dispassionate euphemisms of paperwork and desk jobs — also exhibited in Schindler’s List — are at play here. Eichmann dispassionately describes his 20-hour days and Nazi duties as “desk work” while the action shows him out in the field, at a massacre in a trench. It eats at Malkin, who lost a sister and three nieces and nephews to Eichmann’s “solution.”

The story is framed around that horrible incident, flashing back to those final moments of Fruma Malkin’s life. But, somehow, it doesn’t hit the gut quite the way it should.

In terms of the storytelling here, Eichmann’s dispassion somehow manages to trump Malkin’s soul-searing agony.

Leaving Argentina

That’s to take away nothing from the cast.

As expected, Kingsley delivers a nuanced performance that humanizes the monster. Isaac is also in top form as Malkin. Others, including Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Greta Scacchi (The Red Violin) and Peter Strauss (The Last Tycoon) contribute to a strong ensemble.

But it doesn’t help matters the final moments leading up to the Mossad team’s departure back to Jerusalem plays out a bit too much like the blatantly-Hollywood conclusion to Argo.

More could’ve been made of the nearly 20 years it took to bring Eichmann to justice. And, even though this incident occurred nearly 60 years ago, it’s astonishing that as recently as August 21 (yes, of 2018), Nazis in hiding were still making headlines. That’s when a 95-year-old Nazi guard was finally deported from New York back to Germany. That’s after Jakiw Palij spent more than a decade as a man without a country. Nobody wanted him.

In some respects, today’s world is a fragile tinderbox waiting to ignite. And in such a case, stories like this carry even more relevance.

Operation Finale tells a good story, one worth watching. But it misses the mark in striking a greater degree of resonance by serving as a more powerful reminder of how easy it is to let human nature’s dark side run roughshod over the world. Instead of taking the Argo path, Weitz and Orton should’ve studied up on Spielberg’s Mossad masterpiece, Munich, and how it tied the past to the present.