You know the drill by now here at Oh! That Film Blog. Nine times out of ten, in the week when a big Marvel release happens, I can’t resist the temptation to look the other way. In my defence this time, it seems like Venom hasn’t been getting the usual fanfare that the studio has become used to, so I don’t feel so bad giving it a miss. An even greater temptation this time around, however, was the prospect of being able to enjoy a new release from under the comfort of my duvet, with my cat snuggled by my side, on Netflix. It’s not every day you get to watch a brand new Oscar Isaac movie at home.
Operation Finale tells the incredible true story of a group of Israeli secret agents who are sent to Argentina in 1960 to kidnap, bring to Israel and bring to trial Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), one of the key orchestrators of the Holocaust. The narrative focuses on agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), centering him and his interactions with Eichmann to build a story that not only runs through the action of a high stakes covert operation, but also the human tragedy and unimaginable shadow and trail of grief that the events of the Holocaust left behind.
It feels fitting that I watched this one at home rather than the cinema, because despite telling an undeniably gripping and important story, Operation Finale feels very much like a made for television movie. A high quality television movie, but a television movie nonetheless. For a narrative that spans two continents, a secret agent kidnapping and heavy flashbacks to the worst events of the Second World War, there is just something about the film that lacks a quintessential cinematic quality. In terms of cinematography, everything feels sort of muted, perhaps indicative of the moods of key characters, but the aesthetic of the picture just doesn’t feel as engaging as the subject matter deserves.
Don’t get me wrong, the drama feels authentic, the tension suitably high, and the filmmakers even find some room for sparks of humour within a very serious narrative. It isn’t boring or offensively bad, it just very much feels like the sort of film where you have to detach the magnitude of the subject matter from the execution of the filmmaking. There is a tendency to treat any film telling an amazing true story, especially one related to the Holocaust, with a reverence that other topics and genres don’t get, and whilst I was absolutely engrossed by the details of the narrative, engrossing isn’t a word that can be used to described the technical presentation.
The TV movie feel of the film is elevated valiantly by its cast, undoubtedly the strongest element of the picture outside of its historical inspiration. As Peter Malkin, Oscar Isaac continues to cement himself as one of the best performers of his generation. He perfects that combination of suitably heroic yet low key that all good secret agents outside of James Bond need to be. Everything the character does is tinged with the sadness and devastation of his personal Holocaust experience, and Isaac is great at evoking that tragedy behind his eyes whilst still being present enough to do his job properly.
I don’t think I’m wrong in stating that Ben Kingsley is the only actor in the world who could play both Gandhi and Adolf Eichmann over the course of a career! The seasoned professional isn’t tasked with too hard of a job in his portrayal of Eichmann, the character doesn’t call for anything that might test his enormous range, but there’s no doubting he excels in the role. As an on screen pair, there is almost something Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling-esque about their chemistry and interactions. The scenes that Isaac and Kingsley share together in the confines of Eichmann’s captivity are some of the film’s most engrossing and effective. It’s just nice to see two great actors bounce off one another to create something absorbing, even if the other elements of the filmmaking don’t always match up.
The supporting roles in the film do feel incredibly secondary, but the likes of Nick Kroll, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz and Michael Aronov all help to align the audience with the Israeli task force with their sympathetic, enjoyable performances. Not that you need any extra incentive to support a team hunting a Nazi, of course.
Overall, Operation Finale is probably best described as a not so incredible film that tells an incredible true story. The filmmaking doesn’t quite match the magnitude of the subject matter, but when it comes to the Holocaust I think it’s fair to say that only the very best historical dramas/thrillers ever can. It is certainly worth a watch for the strength of the central performances and the strength of the real life narrative inspiration, but perhaps just the once. If nothing else, the film adds a further touch of immortality to a story and set of characters whose actions should never, ever be lost to history.