By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Forget that, um, stuff someone once said about there being “very good people on both sides.” In “Operation Finale,” there are some very good people on one side and some very, very bad people on the other.
Which, frankly, is as it should be since “Operation Finale” is the true story of how, in 1960, some Israeli secret agents tracked down one of Hitler’s top henchman, Adolf Eichmann, and brought him back to Israel for a public trial (the first globally televised trial in history, we’re told).
The trial itself has already been the focus of a movie: 1975’s “The Man in the Glass Booth,” starring an Oscar-nominated Maximilian Schell as a fictionalized version of Eichmann named Arthur Goldman.
“Operation Finale” isn’t interested in the trial. Rather, it concentrates on the painstaking and often perilous effort it took to extract the Nazi war criminal from Argentina, a country that was not exactly unsympathetic to relocated Germans who didn’t like Jews.
In one of the movie’s more unsettling scenes, we watch a gathering of power-brokers (including the deputy mayor and a member of parliament) excitedly seig heil–ing each other while making “jocular” observations like: “My uncle says Jews pop up everywhere like mushrooms after rain.”
The Boys from Buenos Aires?
However, it’s this meeting, witnessed by a young Jewish woman who was raised Catholic that puts the Mossad on Eichmann’s trail.
Though all of them have lost family in the Holocaust, their mission is strictly “catch and extract.” Meaning, no matter how much they want to slit this monster’s throat, they can’t. He must be brought back to Israel where one of the premier architects of “The Final Solution” will get a taste of his own final solution.
The real catch in “catch and extract” turns out to be El Al airlines’ insistence on an Eichmann-signed document saying he came to Israel willingly. Not surprisingly, he’s not exactly ready to do so.
As a result, the movie spends much of its time in the safe house where Eichmann (Sir Ben Kingsley) and one of the Mossad leaders, Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), go at each other.
They are both fine actors — at one point, I realized Kingsley could probably snag an Oscar nomination simply for the way he chews a sandwich — but somehow the movie refuses to wake up. And though the other members of Malkin’s team (including Melanie Laurent as an ex-lover) are each given their moments, we never feel especially connected to any of them.
Sadly, “Operation Finale” ultimately feels like one of those good-for-you, eat-your-veggies pictures. It tells an important story well enough, but fails to move from conscionable to compelling.
By the time it’s over, the word that mostly comes to mind is “meh.”