Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley Star in Late-WWII “Final Solution” Drama
DIRECTED BY CHRIS WEITZ/2018
World War II may in fact be one of the most established story-lines in cinematic history with the Nazi’s being the perfect cinematic antagonists, as their evil and murderous regime killed tens of millions in such a short time period. The fact that the war was begun nearly 80 years ago hasn’t hampered people’s love of stories centered around this war and its aftermath, as it usually provides us some of the most tense and barbaric moments, but also some of its more heroic. Operation Finale is, as its title suggests, a final statement to the war, though it takes place over 15 years after Hitler’s Third Reich has suffered defeat.
Operation Finale is a new film directed by Chris Weitz who is best known for films such as About a Boy, The Golden Compass, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon. His last directed feature was 2011’s A Better Life, and in the meantime he has spent his time writing. His three main screenplays in that time have all been successful starting with 2015’s live action version of Cinderella, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and The Mountain Between Us.
Each of these projects was an adaptation of some kind. Cinderella had to follow the story largely adapted from the source material by Disney’s 1950 animated feature, and The Mountain Between Us was a novel by Charles Martin that Weitz adapted for the screen. Rogue One was a unique Star Wars story in many ways, but it had to be adapted into the existing canon as it is a backstory culled from the opening lines of text in the original Star Wars (later titled Episode IV: A New Hope) of how the rebels get the secret plans to the Death Star that Princess Leia hides inside R2-D2 as Darth Vader closes in. Rogue One may be the adaptation angle that demonstrates that while Weitz was busy adapting stories to fit into established source material, it was really preparing him for his return to the director chair with Operation Finale.
While the screenplay was written by first time writer Matthew Orton, Weitz needs to be able to take this script and create a compelling cinematic story based on audience’s existing knowledge of World War II. He needs to adapt it to a particular narrative, but still allow it to be a story that feels fresh and new, without being pigeon-holed into being a simple post-WWII themed film among many. For the most part Weitz succeeds, primarily on the strength of the very strong cast led by Oscar Isaac and Sir Ben Kingsley.
Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) stars as Peter Malkin, a member of Israel’s Intelligence Agency, Mossad. He leads a strike team who have been hunting Nazis to where they have fled and hid after the fall of the Third Reich. Many have been hiding among various populations around the globe where they have false identities, have learned new languages, and who have even hid their involvement of participating in the “Final Solution” and other war crimes, from even their own families. Malkin is driven by the death of his sister, and her children, at the hands of the Nazi’s, but following a bungled operation where they killed the “wrong” Nazi, Malkin has a tarnished reputation in the agency.
Fast forward to 1960. After a providential meeting between a young Argentinian teenage girl and boy at a movie theater reveals that this boy is related to Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the “final solution”, further evidence reveals that Adolph Eichmann might still be alive, and in the country of Argentina. This leads Mossad to send a group there to verify the evidence.
Once on the ground, the evidence points to a most probable “Yes”, and Malkin is called in with his team, including his ex-lover, Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent- Now You See Me, Inglourious Basterds), to kidnap the man who may be the supposed Eichmann (Ben Kingsley- Schindler’s List, Iron Man 3) and sneak him out of the country. With Argentina flush with former Nazis in hiding, and Israel being just 12 years old as a nation and who doesn’t have diplomatic relations with every country, this will be harder than it seems. Malkin also lacks the confidence of his superiors who want Eichmann brought back alive so that he can stand trial before the world and demonstrate the openness of Israel. Since Malkin’s team has had a shoot first policy while hunting Nazis, he will have to reign in his team and do the harder job of not killing a man who is responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews, but also more personally, his sister and her children.
The film is tense enough to keep things moving and Isaac and Kingsley are a great pair, especially as Kingsley, who has twice played Holocaust victims (The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List), plays the other side as a Nazi officer who fully understands the art of manipulation. The Nazis were masters at manipulation, and Kingsley’s Eichmann is one who can garner sympathy easily from both Malkin, as well as us, the audience. This helps ratchet up the tension when he seeks to use such sympathy to plunge the proverbial knife in and take advantage of the leverage he has.
Operation Finale will remind many of Argo to a small degree as they seek to sneak an individual out of a country whose entire security force is out hunting for them. While the script of Operation Finale is strong enough, there are moments when it is obvious it comes from a first time screenplay writer. Fortunately, this is saved largely by the excellent cast and the competent direction of Chris Weitz. With Rogue One, he had to create a story that stood on its own but that directly led into something everyone knew, namely Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. With Operation Finale, he has to lead the audience out of a story that many have seen on film, World War II and the Holocaust, and create a compelling historical retelling of the story that came after. In this way, writing the fictional Rogue One was a good training ground for Weitz’s return to the director chair where he utilized those skills to apply them to something ripped from the pages of history.
It is this story about the hunt for Adolph Eichmann that allowed the world to truly understand the true nature of the Nazi evil, where actual survivors would be given the chance to tell their story on the record. This was an opportunity which wasn’t afforded to Holocaust survivors at the Nuremberg Trials that came before. This trial was the final scene of a terrible genocide that had taken place, but one that allowed a young nation to find some measure of healing now that they had been able to capture, go to trial, convict, and execute one of the key architects of their suffering.
While the operation brought about a finale of sorts to those who had endured the full brutality of the Nazi regime, the true test is to see if we can learn from the past, and never forget the lessons it teaches us. For that reason, Operation Finale is a strong statement on a truly important historical moment and is a worthy film addition to one of the most established film genres in cinematic history.