‘Operation Finale’ serves justice to Adolf Eichmann



Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for organizing the Nazi’s Final Solution, stands trial in Jerusalem in the film “Operation Finale.” This drama/thriller was a few steps above mediocre thanks to the premise and the cast.

Ian Fertig, A&E Editor

Imagine losing your entire family. Imagine millions of others like you losing their families. Now imagine facing the man responsible. His life is in your hands. What would you do?

Many Nazis were captured and faced justice, but Adolf Eichmann, the head of Jewish affairs, escaped into Argentina with his wife and son, where he lived for over a decade.

— A&E Editor Ian Fertig

“Operation Finale” tells the story of the Mossad agents who captured Adolf Eichmann, the “architect of the Final Solution,” in 1960. This drama/thriller flick focuses on Eichmann’s capture, but more importantly the period afterward, when a team of Jewish men and women were forced to hide and care for the Nazi who designed the system that had massacred their families.

Following the end of World War Two, some Nazi leaders, most notably Adolf Hitler himself, committed suicide and never stood trial for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Many Nazis were captured and faced justice, but Adolf Eichmann, the head of Jewish affairs, escaped into Argentina with his wife and son, where he lived for over a decade.

Eichmann was ultimately apprehended and taken back to Israel. His trial in 1961 was broadcast across the world, bringing global attention to the crimes of the Holocaust. Eichmann was hanged for his crimes in 1962.

Over fifty years later, “Operation Finale” was made. This film is not a massive critical or financial success. On its first weekend in theaters in the US, it was only the fourth highest grossing movie, being beaten by “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Meg,” and “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” all of which have been in theaters for weeks. Critical reviews have been mixed, with a current rotten tomatoes score of 60%. However, this is not a bad movie. The story it’s based on is ripe for an engaging cinematic experience, and although it wasn’t executed perfectly, the result is worth seeing.

The most gripping moments of the movie are when the audience bears witness to hate: relentless, ignorant hate that fuels anti-Semitic prejudice. Before Eichmann is even shown in the movie, there’s a haunting scene in which a large group of Nazis living in Argentina praise their fallen Reich and pledge to turn any Jews they find into soap. A young girl, who was raised Catholic but is the daughter of a Jewish couple, sees the whole affair and runs away.

There’s something horrible about facing true evil and realizing it has a face, a name, and can tell jokes.

— A&E Editor Ian Fertig

Later on, once Eichmann is being held in a not-so-safehouse by the Jewish agents, he recounts how he witnessed the mass execution of a group of Jews during the war. For the bulk of the movie, Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley, is a complacent prisoner. He holds many conversations with his captors, during which he continually denies ever wanting to hurt anyone. He falls back on the old excuse: he was just an innocent man following orders. But when the time comes to move him to Israel, Eichmann drops the charade. He viciously describes, without any remorse, having to wipe brains off of his uniform after watching innocent people get shot dead.

That’s the primary draw factor of the movie. Hate. Although appalling, we audience members are drawn to it because we wonder how anyone could be so cruel. On the flip side, it also makes watching movies like this easier, because the heroes are easy to root for.

Speaking of the heroes, the Jewish men and women in the film are another great aspect of “Operation Finale.” They must literally hand-feed Eichmann, ensuring he is brought to Israel alive. To make matters worse, the only way out of Argentina is to have Eichmann sign himself over on paper. Until he signs, they can’t go anywhere. The agents, played by Oscar Isaac, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Aronov, Torben Liebrecht, and Ohad Knoller, all struggle with their anger with varying degrees of success. Some of the agents want to shoot Eichmann and be done with it. Isaac’s character, Peter Malkin, appeals to Eichmann’s ego and treats him kindly. This tactic ultimately results in the much-needed signature.

There’s a moment in the movie as haunting as the Nazi “soap” scene, but for a different reason. Eichmann is sitting on the toilet. Three of the agents are in the bathroom with him to ensure he doesn’t try to escape. One of them, the angriest agent of the operation, has repeatedly expressed his desire to kill Eichmann. He stands in the doorway, staring at the man responsible for millions of deaths. Then Eichmann tells a joke. Something about how the perfect Nazi should be as blonde as Hitler. The agent laughs, much to his own surprise and horror. After a moment, he leaves the room.

This scene has remained on my mind more than any other. I can’t fully explain why. There’s something horrible about facing true evil and realizing it has a face, a name, and can tell jokes.

No movie is without its flaws. “Operation Finale” has a few big ones. When the aforementioned young Catholic (but Jewish) girl is introduced to the audience, she is in a movie theater, flirting with a young man a few rows away. This young man ultimately is revealed to be Klaus Eichmann, Adolf’s son. As they make flirty eyes in the theater, the movie they’re watching drops the n-word in a racist bit of 1960’s “comedy.” Everyone laughs, including the young girl. I had to double check, but the rating on “Operation Finale” is PG-13. It’s troubling enough that moviemakers are fine including unnecessary racial slurs, but more troubling that we’ve ranked the n-word as 13 and older.

“Operation Finale,” in its attempt to end the third act with a climax, manufactures tension by having a bike gang of Nazis pursue the heroes to the airport as they flee Argentina with Eichmann. A Nazi at the airport, as a means to delay the flight, steals an important piece of paperwork from the airport control tower. Peter Malkin runs inside to deliver a copy of the paper so the plane can take off. He stays behind and watches his friends leave as the Nazi gang arrives at the airport. The entire scene is set up as a dramatic sacrifice, with heavy implications that Peter will be killed or captured by Eichmann’s supporters. The scene ends. A minute of screen time later, Peter is shown back home in Israel. No explanation is given as to how he arrived there. It appears as though there was no real danger, and the whole sequence is disappointing for a movie finale.

If you’re an audience member looking for a thriller with non-stop intensity, you haven’t found it. What you have found is a decent movie, with good and bad mixed in. There are boring sections, like the drawn-out intro credits. But there are also scenes that make the boredom worth it, like when Eichmann is being flown into Israel and a man weeps with joy on the plane. The man leans on a counter, and his sleeve rolls up just enough to reveal his concentration camp tattoo on his arm.

Stellar performances from the leading cast and a healthy dose of evil save what otherwise would have been a forgettable experience.