How Could A Mass-Murderer Seem So Caring? ‘Operation Finale’ Review

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Operation Finale recounts the post-World War II capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief operating officers within Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust bureaucracy. Based on historical detail, the dramatic film artfully develops a bi-focal vision of indelible atrocities executed by acolytes of the Führer and those who sought justice for such crimes against humanity.  

The movie’s marquee foreshadows psychological shards of how its star, Oscar-winning Sir Ben Kingsley, portrays Eichmann as a blood-spattered, myopic man nearly blinded by his Sieg Heil vows to Nazi ideology. Ricocheting between his time as an architect of executions and his cunning life lived as Ricardo Klement, a Spanish/Yiddish-speaking fugitive in Argentina, the film portrays Eichmann as both a serial mass murderer as well as a loving husband and father dedicated to his blissful life of routines.

The two-hour film begins saturated in sepia tones reminiscent of brown shirts worn by soldiers of the Gestapo. MGM’s Operation Finale assumes but is not dependent upon a working knowledge of WWII facts that include an awareness that six million Jews were tallied, numerically tattooed in deep blue ink, and torturously murdered.

Operation Finale’s  focus is on the complex and successful attempt by eight valiant members of the Mossad, Israel’s Supreme Institute for Intelligence, to capture Eichmann near his Buenos Aires family home in May of 1960. Throughout its intense timeline of implausibilities, the gravitas of unforgivable realities separates this film from other end-of-the-summer thrillers, as it weaves unthinkable institutional justification of social mayhem with international and religious intrigue.  The legend can be seen as simultaneously cause for reflection and caution.

Director Chris Weitz navigates the script written by Matthew Orton, to include repeated metaphorical visualizations of a deep blue ink spot staining the perfectly starched, white cuffed shirt of a uniformed Nazi leader. Throughout the film a faceless actor frantically scrubs the image, yet the stain remains; deep and indelible. 

Seamlessly, the plot moves between atrocities and life’s simplest endearments of family humor, romance, and the love of children as experienced by both Eichmann and members of his Mossad captors. Psydo-normalization of post-war life helps to establish entrè for meaningful dialogues between Eichmann and Mossad agent Peter Malkin, played by Oscar Isaac. The evolving dynamic pits adversaries against each other over a ten-day struggle that challenges their entrenched personal moral compasses. A fight in which Eichmann loses his glasses is a pivotal detail in the story’s psychological development. Permutations of his vision, and lack thereof, are analogous to his ability to see humanity beyond his entitled view of ethnic cleansing.

During a manipulative test of wills, an exchange of tender memories, sorrows, and fears briefly bond Mossad agent Peter Malkin and his arrogant captive Heir Eichmann.  The shrewdness of Eichmann’s desperation advances a legal theory that his trail and certain conviction would be unfairly seen as justice for the lives of six million lost Jews. Rather than be sent to Israel as a scapegoat, Eichmann appeals to Malkin’s sense of humanity by honoring the name and memory of his beloved sister Fruma, then asks for compassion. Eventually, Hitler’s henchman exploits Malkin’s good will and graphically recounts group exterminations of huddling women and children as they begged for mercy from the pit of an anti-tank Holocaust trench.

The Mossad’s unauthorized extraction of Eichmann from Argentina lead anti-Semitic sympathizers and some astute legal tacticians to call for an international tribunal to hear Eichmann’s case for justice. He maintained he was only following orders, as all good soldiers must. Denying responsibility for murder, he portrayed himself as an obedient follower of the Führer assigned only to the transportation of Jews to secluded resettlements. Others suggested Eichmann’s crimes of compliance were committed in Germany and therefore should be litigated in Germany. Israel’s insistence on holding a trial in Tel Aviv prevailed as an honor to those lost and to educate future generations about the Holocaust.      

Operation Finale concludes with black-and-white newsreel footage of Eichmann’s trial, which was held from April 11 to December 15, 1960. A 300-page court judgment found 55-year-old Adolf Eichmann guilty for his part in the Holocaust and the Nazis’ extermination of Jews during World War II.  He was hanged at Ramleh Prison in Israel on May 31, 1961. After cremation his ashes were scattered at sea so there could be no resting place.

After Monday evening’s preview of Operation Finale, as the house lights went up the audience cheered as they wiped away tears.

Rated PG, Operation Finale opened in theaters this past Wednesday, August 29.

As is Jewish tradition:  “Yom HaShoah” — “Never Forget,” so genocide will never happen again.