Adapting a true story into a feature film requires striking a delicate balance. The movie should remain faithful to the actual events, but also needs to be entertaining. Operation Finale tells a mostly true story, but forgets to make it a good movie too.
Operation Finale follows the events leading up to the arrest and trial of Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). The infamous architect of Hitler’s Final Solution fled to Argentina after killing millions in the Holocaust. By 1960, though they suspect that he’s still alive somewhere, neither Germany nor Israel is actively pursuing him. However, when some very reliable intelligence comes along, the Israeli government has a hard time denying the potential triumph in being able to bring this murderer to justice.
Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) heads up the extraction team to Argentina. For an extra layer of fictionalized intrigue, Peter’s ex, Hanna (Mélanie Laurent), is the doctor on the team in charge of sedating Eichmann. Argentina is not aware of this plan, and therefore does not support it. Considering most countries would not be too pleased if government employees from another country showed up to extract a citizen without their consent, all of this must be done in secret. This means safe houses with curtains drawn, and a whole lot of waiting for just the right moment.
After a mostly smooth capture, the team gets a major disruption when their plan for escape is delayed by over a week. What turned into a relatively quick grab-and-dash is now an exercise in tending to a vile person.
Operation Finale does an excellent job of conveying the weight of Eichmann’s capture. For every single member of the team, his crimes are very personal. We see in repeated flashbacks how Peter remembers the Final Solution through his beloved sister and her cherubic children. This is not just a job for any of them.
But for some meatheaded reason, Peter spends much of their thumb-twiddling time chatting with Eichmann and getting to know him. It seems as though Operation Finale intends for these conversations to be intellectual tête-à-têtes, with mind games and power struggles, but instead they feel more like first date small talk. Somehow, Peter manages to get a few concessions from Eichmann, but he does so by letting Eichmann into his head a bit, and is confused when Eichmann uses these personal tidbits against him. Why be surprised when the monster is monstrous?
For anyone who knows the real story of Eichmann’s capture and trial, Operation Finale offers little to enhance those facts or turn them into a compelling narrative. The film rests itself on the excitement of reality, which is nearly enough to make it a good movie, but not quite enough.