I bet a written account of Israel's capture and trial of the last remaining Nazi leader in hiding, Adolf Eichmann, would potentially be more compelling than even the best filmmakers could manage to make it. The story of several people in a safe house for ten days with a Nazi war criminal captive isn't the most cinematic on its face.
And here is the curious thing about Operation Finale, the movie that tells this true story, starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann and Oscar Isaac, the guy who was most instrumental in extracting him. There actually have been books accounting this story. One, published in 1997, was even called Operation Eichmann. But, Operation Finale, the film, gives no credit to any author whose book the film's screenplay is based on. It just gives credit to Matthew Orton for its original screenplay.
And as presented here, the story is compelling enough; I found myself engaged from beginning to end -- but, not to any particularly notable degree. The story as presented here is not long on intrigue. And with an incredible story like this, you would think it would be. Plenty of superior movies about the Holocaust are brimming with tension, which Operation Finale decidedly lacks.
It has solid performances, at least. Ben Kingsley never disappoints, and you never quite know whether his Eichmann is telling Peter Malkin (Isaac) the truth. It's fairly easy to suspect not, but director Chris Weitz never draws a clear line. After Malkin and several other Israeli operatives locate Eichmann in Buenos Aires and capture him, there are many scenes with Malkin and Eichmann alone in the room where Eichmann is being kept. There is great potential for head games, but instead it's little more than mutual appeals for compromise as Eichmann must be convinced to sign a document stating he will come to Israel willingly.
There are many complications with his extraction, you see, and that much you might expect. It gets slightly tedious regarding available resources in the Israeli government, as well as Argentinian government complicity. None of it is given particularly sharp focus.
I did find myself wondering about the extent of artistic license. Were there really this many narrow escapes -- from the local authorities as they finally leave the safe house; even as they fly out of the airport in the end? Just because most of the movie is not that cinematic doesn't mean it escapes the trappings of movie clichés.
Mind you, I have nothing against a movie that is heavy on dialogue and light on action -- if the dialogue is written well enough, it can be just as gripping as any action thriller. Operation Finale exists in a curious sort of happy medium, never boring but also never really exciting. Given the real-world weight of the story, certainly it could have been more exciting.
And that's the harshest criticism I can give this movie: it's fine. It's not a waste of time. Neither is it essential viewing. You'll be into it if you have an abiding interest in stories where justice is served in the end with Nazis. Or, you might just like knowing that such a thing happened, with last of the major organizers of the Holocaust (or the so-called "Final Solution," hence the title), fifteen years after the fact. A fine but ultimately forgettable movie isn't going to be any assistance in the longevity of historical memory.