Operation Finale isn’t just another Holocaust movie

Listen to this article

3.5 out of 4 stars

Oscar Isaac has gone from killing Stormtroopers to taking down a more sinister foe: Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the extermination of 10 million people, six million of them Jews, during the Holocaust.

Oscar Isaac is outstanding as Israeli agent Peter Malkin, who hunts down war criminal Adolf Eichmann in “Operation Finale.” (MGM)

In Operation Finale, Isaac, who starred as Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is  Peter Malkin, a real-life agent of the Mossad, which is Israel’s version of the C.I.A. He’s tasked with hunting down Eichmann, who went into hiding following World War II in 1945, becoming the world’s most-wanted war criminal, though some presumed he was dead.

He was very much alive, living with his family in Argentina, blending in while trying to keep his Nazi roots hidden. But when Israeli agents learn the whereabouts of a man who oversaw the “Final Solution,” they launch a covert manhunt in a foreign land, dubbed “Operation Finale” in 1960.

Isaac, a cerebral Nazi hunter who relies more on his brain than braun to capture the man known as the “banality of evil,” gives the best performance of his career. But it’s not nearly as good as Sir Ben Kingsley, whose portrayal of Eichmann — second in command behind Adolf Hitler —  should earn him his first nomination for Best Actor since 2004 House of Sand and Fog.

Kingsley, who won his lone Oscar for Best Actor in 1983 for his performance of Ghandi, delivers a performance as chilling as Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. It’s not what Kingsley says, it’s how he delivers it and the mannerism he uses as he blames everyone but himself for the Holocaust. He personifies evil as an unrepentant killer who ordered mass shootings and coordinated the trains that carried Jews to death camps.

Ben Kingsley gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Nazi Adolf Eichmann in “Operation Finale.” (MGM)

What makes this story so extraordinary is that it’s completely true. Israeli agents arrived in Argentina during the South American nation’s 150th anniversary without telling host officials of their true intentions. They found Eichmann’s remote residence and snatched him in the middle of the night. They held him in a safe house for 10 days before smuggling him on an Israeli commercial plane so he could be tried in Jerusalem.

At its core, Operation Finale’s plot — entering a country under false pretenses and trying to leave the country without permission — has very much in common with Argo, which like Operation Finale takes some cinematic liberties to add drama to the ending.

Still, the way director Chris Weitz centers the story on Isaac and Kingsley captivates the audience as Malkin tries to break Eichmann psychologically to agree to be flown to Israel to stand trial, which ultimately ends with him being hanged.

Isaac is complemented by strong cast, which includes fellow agents Isser Harel (Nick Kroll), Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aronov), Greg Hill (Moshe Tabor) and Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent), but Kingsley needs no one else to help him give perhaps the finest performance of his storied career.

“Operation Finale” isn’t just another Holocaust movie. It’s a thriller that builds slowly, one line at a time, to ultimately tell the story of one of the most successful – and unlikeliest – manhunts in history.

But most of all, it’s a story of humanity – the best and worst of it – and one certainly worth seeing.