At a point about a third of the way through Operation Finale, Oscar Isaac’s Mossad agent is driving in convertible around Buenos Aires with another member of the team sent to find Adolf Eichmann, and on the radio they hear about the American pilot shot down in Russia. They make a comment and we, the audience, go “Oh, that’s the Bridge of Spies thing.” And then I was left thinking about that other movie, and couldn’t help but think how much better and more exciting it was than Chris Weitz’s Operation Finale.
Based on the true account of the clandestine mission carried out by Israeli Mossad to travel to Buenos Aires to find and capture Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, and return him to Israel to stand trial for war atrocities, Operation Finale ticks all the story boxes to get me stoked. A team of spies in the 1960s hunting Nazis; I mean, it’s all there. But the movie never strikes a consistent tone, occasionally delving into sections of comedy that feel wildly out of place, nor does it ever hit as hard with excitement or drama as it thinks it does.
The film stars Oscar Isaac–who also produced–as Peter Malkin, a Mossad agent on the outs following a botched mission to find Eichmann a decade prior. Now, word has again reached them that Eichmann may have relocated to Buenos Aires, changed his name, and gotten involved with the burgeoning local anti-Semitic Fascist group. It’s a particularly fraught time to be in Argentina, especially as a Jewish person, because of all the German expatriates. Israel used the mission as a way to stamp out Nazi sympathies the world over. Pretty heavy and portentous.
Malkin and a team of agents, played by the likes of Mélanie Laurent and Nick Kroll, head to Buenos Aires to confirm and collect Eichmann (played by Ben Kingsley), now living as a family man and working a factory job. But grabbing the relatively isolated man isn’t nearly as hard as holding him until they can leave the country, both without getting found out by the Argentine Nazis, and without killing him outright from rage and despair at Eichmann’s crimes.
Parts of Operation Finale work exceptionally well. The execution of the various real-life elements of the plan are depicted in tremendous detail, and have a sense of urgency and tension that really resonate and make it feel as dangerous as it ought to. The various scenes with Isaac and Kingsley interacting are the movie’s clear standouts, as Malkin tries to convince Eichmann to sign a document stating he’ll willingly stand trial and Eichmann clearly trying to get inside Malkin’s head. These scenes are all too brief, unfortunately, but while they’re on screen, they sizzle as only two brilliant actors can.
And unfortunately those are really all the major positives. The rest of the movie is not bad, it’s just unremarkable. The story at hand is absolutely remarkable and worth bringing to the screen, but it lacks a uniqueness in the method of storytelling that would really make it stand out. The supporting characters all feel very flat, and in the case of Kroll’s character–the real-life Mossad legend Rafi Eitan–is weirdly jokey for the mission at hand. We have the guy who’s angry and most likely to beat Eichmann to death; we have the by-the-book interrogator who resents Malkin for his position on the team; and we have other sundry members of the team who have one or two moments to do something and then just sit in rooms the rest of the time.
Perhaps the most unfortunate is Laurent, who gets the unenviable task of being the lone woman on the crew, and the one who’s story arc is “Malkin’s on-again-off-again girlfriend who is also a doctor administering knockout drugs.” It’s a bummer, especially considering she’s already played one of screendom’s greatest Nazi killers in Inglourious Basterds, for her to be relegated to Isaac’s character’s moral compass.
Despite a couple of great performances, and a compelling true-life story at the center, Operation Finale feels fairly by-the-numbers and under developed.