By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Ben Kingsley has played seemingly every ethnicity under the sun as well as many a villain role, but somehow never a Nazi.
Five prominent Jewish roles, though, including pretty much the most prominent possible.
Also, later, Pharaoh.
And then Nun, a Jew who inspired Moses. Just to cover all the bases.
In Operation Finale, Kingsley plays Adolf Eichmann, the target of an elite group of Jewish Nazi-hunters led by Oscar Isaac, who aim to abduct him from his Argentine hiding place and bring him back to Israel to stand trial for being the grand architect of The Holocaust.
On the surface, Operation Finale is the type of mid-range adult drama everyone saying we’re not getting enough of these days- a movie that largely understands it’s not going to play when Oscar season comes but is committed to bringing its best to the table.
The film boasts slick direction from Chris Weitz, who does a yeoman’s job more often than not even though he doesn’t get mentioned alongside big-name directors very often.
Don’t forget how great this one was.
However, Operation Finale is really a two-hander between its double above the title leads. The thrill in this thriller doesn’t come from the capture or the other less than accurate embellishments that the film turns to late to jog the adrenaline, but rather these two sitting in a bare room and attempting to gain a mental edge on the other with the highest personal stakes imaginable in a contest that will ultimately do much to define the history of their respective peoples. It’s worth the price of admission.
The film tries very hard but ultimately fails at getting inside the head of Eichmann, offering up two different narrative flourishes in an attempt to do so that don’t make a ton of sense in context. The way the Nazi-hunters (fairly quickly) get him to drop his cover story and admit he’s Eichmann hinges on deliberately misstating his SS ID number continuously until he pridefully or anal-retentively corrects them.
More curiously, the setup for those Isaac/Kingsley 1:1s is an apparently fictional need to get Eichmann to sign a letter stating he’s voluntarily going to Israel to stand trial. While it proves to be the key attraction of the movie, its denouement still doesn’t quite seem like something a canny bastard like Eichmann would have done.
The supporting cast gets pretty short shrift overall, with talented performers like Melanie Laurent not given much to do. Weitz and screenwriter Matthew Orton also jazzed up history a bit to make things more exciting in other fairly obvious ways besides the aforementioned letter, particularly the climactic airport shenanigans that are actually rooted in truth but which are strangely made less believable by how they choose to present the cause of the delay. Of course, Argo was my favorite movie of its year, so…
Yeah, I’m a tad of a hypocrite.
Operation Finale is a competently delivered historical drama that really comes to life when Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley go head to head with the mind games.
Operation Finale (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every flashback
Take a Drink: whenever Kingsley introduces a new actorial tic
Take a Drink: whenever Joe Alwyn gets a little Aryan ubermensch all over a seen
Take a Drink: whenever he realizes he’s been duped or defeated
Do a Shot: for every actors’ class psychological showdown between Isaac and Kingsley