Spies executing covert missions on foreign soil to kidnap and extract prisoners is action thriller plot 101.
“Operation Finale,” based on true accounts, opts to reflect on the emotional and mental tolls war, hatred and loss can inflict with the high-stakes machinations taking a relative backseat.
Director Chris Weitz’s latest feature is the smallest possible version of a film about a group of Israeli Mossad agents tasked with the forced exfiltration of Adolf Eichmann, one of Hitler’s top SS lieutenants and the creator of the “final solution,” better known as the Holocaust.
Screenwriter Matthew Orton gives audiences a very clinical, paint-by-numbers approach to the nuts and bolts of the operation, choosing to layer in flashback and dream sequences to ground viewers in the humanity of the affair.
Audiences are to rally behind Peter Malkin, a headstrong agent playing a pivotal role at every turn. In the hands of immensely talented character actor Oscar Isaac, Malkin is brash, yet noble in his pursuit of justice and/or revenge, a dichotomy neither the script nor the man can fully resolve.
Verbose, heavy dialogue litters key moments of the film and Isaac elevates the material beyond the script page, in no small part due to his wonderful screen partner, Sir Ben Kingsley.
“Operation Finale” was made, at its core, to give an actor the caliber of Kingsley the chance to play Eichmann and the Oscar winner doesn’t disappoint with a subdued, elegantly reviling performance.
His Eichmann stalks in the background, haunting early moments in the film before revealing himself to be a rather cautious, subtle character.
It’s as if Kingsley’s entire performance is toned after a crucial early scene where Nazi supporters violently chant the “Heil Hitler” as Eichmann nods his assent with barely noticed finger tapping.
The brilliant ways Kingsley is able to internalize and focus Eichmann’s hatred make the verbal sparring between Isaac and Kingsley all the more engaging and result in the film’s best moments.
A capable supporting cast led by Melanie Laurent as a doctor on the team and possible love interest for Malkin fill in the gaps. But aside from one or two scenes early, the entire affair feels like a slowly burning buildup to Malkin’s face-to-face encounters with Eichmann.
The deliberate nature of the pacing would work better told in limited miniseries fashion. Within the confines of a two hour narrative, satisfying cinematic highs too often get weighed down by deliberate, yet well intentioned moralizing.
The film is buoyed by one of the year’s best scores penned by Alexandre Desplat, who won the most recent Best Original Score Academy Award for his work on “The Shape of Water.” Desplat enhances the tension without becoming overly involved, lifting the action sequences and setting the tone with urgency.
A traditional Oscar-bait movie, “Operation Finale” does not have the staying power nor the command performances necessary to overcome its Labor Day release.
It probably best serves as a palette cleanser coming out of a sequel heavy summer blockbuster season as studios prepare to release their best films beginning in October.
Though both Isaac and Kingsley are good in leading roles, neither turn will generate enough goodwill to overcome the buzz surrounding films like Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” and Ryan Gosling’s “First Man” to earn a nomination.
Whether a product of the script, the direction or some combination of both, “Operation Finale” drags its feet by a good 10 minutes and could benefit from a tighter, more expedient cut in order to amplify the tension and provide urgency to the characters’ decisions.
An interesting story competently told, “Operation Finale” does right by its subject matter while not quite rising to the bar of its assembled talent.