Netflix's Operation Finale Review
You can't handle the truth
Netflix release another minor gem with the engaging little Nazi war criminal thriller, Operation FinaleWhilst nowhere near as powerful as Spielberg's Munich, nor as visceral as Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, and whilst it still doesn't escape the Netflix curse, Operation Finale nonetheless provides some compelling diversion. It never quite makes good on its promise of psychological mind games nor delivers out-and-out thrills commensurate with the real-life operation, but there's enough going on here - particularly from the two leads Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley - to warrant some investigation.
Operation Finale provides some compelling diversion
The historical setting places us (relatively) long past World War II, in 60s Argentina, where it's rumoured that Ben Kingsley's notorious Nazi war criminal is still at large: supposedly dead SS Officer Adolf Eichmann, dubbed the 'man who masterminded the Final Solution'.
Oscar Isaac's Mossad agent Peter Malkin is dispatched, along with a team of operatives, on a mission not to assassinate the man, but actually to kidnap him and get him out of the country and back to Israel, where he can be put on trial for his crimes. Complications arise, however, with the team unable to crack Eichmann and Malkin torn by his blood-soaked memories of the Holocaust and the old man in front of him who refuses to believe that he will ever be given a fair trial.
There are some great ideas here, and Operation Finale does a surprisingly decent job at (largely) avoiding the made-for-Netflix feel that curses so many productions, crafting a feature that's obviously very limited by budget, but still tries to remain true to period mood and setting. The real-life story is clearly one of legend - as the opening crawl reminds us, three out of the four head honchos who 'masterminded' the Holocaust committed suicide before they could face 'justice', so obviously the idea that they could actually put the last survivor on trial is a tremendous motivating factor in one of the most historically significant operations of all time.
Add to that, the psychological complications that ensue and you have a whole melting pot of intriguing ingredients. After all, Operation Finale, however rightly horrified it is with the atrocities committed, isn't a picture which is necessarily determined to paint the picture in black and white, instead leaving some shadow of doubt - a portentous flashback sequence (involving a somewhat badly de-aged Kingsley) is used exceptionally well to lead the viewer in one of the film's subtle but effective twists - as Isaac's personally wronged Mossad agent is forced to confront, and even perhaps try to understand, Kingsley's Eichmann. This is not to say that About a Boy and Golden Compass director Chris Weitz ever tries to excuse the man's actions, thankfully, not try to paint him as a feeble old man who warrants our sympathy, but instead trying to highlight the impossibility of foisting the mass genocide committed on the shoulders of any one individual and expecting that to stick.
The film is at its best when Isaac and Kingsley are sharing the screen, and the interplay between them is electric
Although there are tense moments in the operation, particularly when things (as they always do) go awry, and there's some solid support from the likes of the ageless Melanie Laurent (also in Inglorious Basterds) comedian Nick Kroll, and Lior Raz (from the acclaimed Israeli TV drama Fauda), this really is Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley's baby. The film at its best when the two are sharing the screen and the interplay between them is electric. Kingsley is as good as he has ever been, in a thankless role which he embraces unflinchingly, whilst Isaac enjoys a role not dissimilar to Eric Bana's in Munich, afforded a degree of the same depth of psychological trauma both from his work and from his personal history and experience.
Operation Finale is unfortunately yet another Netflix production which isn't going to make you reassess the Netflix brand. Sure, they have had a little more success of late with Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark, but their productions are still consistently flawed - and Operation Finale is no exception. It never goes far enough, or deep enough into the material to give you the pause for thought it deserves (the flashback twist should be a conversation-starter, not a blink-and-you'll-miss-it gimmick) nor does it offer a more viscerally thrilling alternative, more than happy to tread a middle ground that is never going to earn the film - or the brand - the recognition they could get had a little more effort be made. It's a shame, but don't let that stop you enjoying a quiet night in with a perfectly enjoyable little war drama.
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