The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Operation Finale

Operation Finale falls into the curious category of films based on riveting true stories that somehow manage to render them dull and dramatically limp. It is a dramatization of how a group of Israeli agents captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Holocaust. Bungling that piece of history should be virtually impossible. The movie has glimmers of life, but far too often feels afraid to dig into the inherent tension of its premise.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, one of those agents. When a chance tip alerts his team to the fact that Eichmann (Ben Kinsgley) is hiding out in Argentina, he leads the effort to track him down and smuggle him back to Israel so that justice can be served. Eichmann, however, is still more than a little shady, refusing to cooperate once captured. Haley Lu Richardson (Edge of Seventeen) plays the young woman who provides that tip, after she realizes she's dating the son (Joe Alwyn) of a Nazi.

Ostensibly, the most captivating part of the film should be the depiction of how the team works to verify that the man they think is Eichmann really is him, and how they plot to nab him. Stop and think about that. These agents have to capture a Nazi criminal who has spent a decade in hiding, without him getting tipped off as to their knowledge of his whereabouts. They have to devise a way to ambush him that he won't see coming. An idea of that sort should provide nail-biting tension. Operation Finale stages these elements in a surprisingly low-key manner, never taking the time to build suspense. Even stranger, this constitutes only the first act of the movie.

The second act focuses on Malkin's attempts to get Eichmann to sign a document saying that he's being transported to Israel willingly. His approach entails trying to appeal to the captive's better nature assuming he has one, which he may not. The emphasis here should be on crafting sharp back-and-forth dialogue between the men. Instead, the things the characters say tend to feel cliched, and they lack the quality that makes you hang on every word. This dilutes the potential power of the cat-and-mouse game between them.

Act three shows the team executing the mission to sneak Eichmann out of Argentina before the authorities can catch on. We ought to get the sort of edge-of-your-seat nervousness found in Ben Affleck's Argo, but once more, the staging is way too subdued to raise a viewer's pulse. Director Chris Weitz (The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Golden Compass) needed to infuse Operation Finale with a lot more urgency than he does.

On the plus side, Ben Kingsley is excellent as Eichmann, really capturing the mystery of whether this abhorrently evil man has a conscience buried somewhere inside. He helps to elevate the picture somewhat. Oscar Isaac is good, too, although the role of Malkin feels a little underdeveloped. The screenplay makes it clear that he has a personal motivation for wanting to see Eichmann have his day in court, yet it's handled in a shallow, perfunctory way.

The true story is fascinating enough to allow Operation Finale to generate a little interest, if not outright enthusiasm. One can't shake the feeling, though, that this film could have been so much more riveting, electrifying, and emotional than it is.

( out of four)

Operation Finale is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.

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