“Operation Finale”



            When World War II ended, and everyone began to realize the horror of the Holocaust, the top Nazi leaders had already killed themselves:  Hitler, Goring, and Himmler.  There were rumors about others escaping to Argentina, but nobody knew where they were, or what identities they had assumed.

Until an unlikely romance bloomed in Buenos Aires, between two expatriates, Klaus (Joe Alwyn) and Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson).  They both have German roots, but Klaus Eichmann doesn't realize Sylvia Hermann is Jewish.  In the course of their romance he brags about his father's Nazi ranking, then invites her to his home, where she meets a man who introduces himself as Klaus' uncle, but she notices that Klaus calls him “Father.”   The discrepancy draws her attention, and soon she realizes that the man who calls himself “Ricardo Klement” is actually Adolf Eichmann.  Through her family connections, the Mossad is contacted, and soon a team of agents is sent to Argentina to identify and capture the “Architect of the Holocaust.”

            Director Chris Weitz takes us through the Mossad team's careful planning of exactly how they're going to capture Eichmann, and bring him to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes.  And capturing him was actually the easy part.  The more difficult assignment was to get him to sign a waiver of extradition, in which he essentially volunteers to be returned to Israel.  Understandably, he does not wish to be made a “scapegoat,” and claims that during the War, he was only following orders, like all other soldiers.  Politically, the Mossad team realizes that there are problems with just extracting Eichmann without his consent.  The Argentinian government, could, and did, complain about their national sovereignty being violated.  Finally, one of the Mossad agents, Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaacs) decides to play the “good cop” with Eichmann:  offer him cigarettes.  Give him a shave.  Lead him in some light exercising.  Listen to him talk about his family (his wife and two sons).  And eventually, Malkin gets Eichmann to sign the papers, but only if Malkin, in turn, agrees to arrage for Eichmann to see his wife again. 

            Meanwhile, some of the German expatriates, loosely organized into a right wing faction that is in sympathy with the Argentinian polizia, are trying to find the safe house where they believe Eichmann is being detained.  If these two sides had actually run into each other, the subsequent conflict wouldn't have been pretty, and wouldn't be easily explained by anybody's government.

            The rest, as they say, is history:  Adolf Eichmann is, in fact, flown back to Israel, where he stands trial in 1961 under the watchful eye of the world's press.  Of course he claims he was only following orders;  nonetheless, he was executed by hanging in 1962, at the age of 56.

            Unfortunately, Ben Kingsley is about 20 years too old for this part.  Though his great acting skill makes us appreciate the slippery intelligence of a man like Adolf Eichmann, the wig and the hair dye just don't work, especially in an incarceration environment.  Nevertheless, Director Weitz presents us with some good suspense, especially considering the fact that we all know what happens before we begin.  It's historically significant because it's a postscript to the Holocaust, the one chapter in history which we should never forget.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association