When Sir Ben Kingsley and more recently Oscar Isaac are attached to films you know what you’re in for. Compelling drama, reliably terrific performances to go along with a film that is generally worth your time. With Operation Finale that’s just what you’ll get. Except this time around, despite the film telling an interesting story, we aren’t getting much more above and beyond that. Operation Finale plays like a slow burn, high stakes, character driven drama that never quite gets to the potential you’d like it to. With that, this is a solid movie, but not much more than that.
In Operation Finale, Kingsley plays Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi officer who orchestrated the Holocaust during World War II. In the years following, Eichmann is living in Argentina, and thanks to some intelligence, Mossad agents in Israel seek to capture and bring him back to stand trial. Chief among those agents is Peter Malkin (Isaac) who is essentially the muscle in the operation. Joining them is Hanna (Melanie Laurent) and Rafi (Nick Kroll) as they journey to Argentina to enact their plan.
The real life drama behind this story is compelling. Director Chris Weitz deftly balances some heavy themes and motives with nuance. With an assured hand, Weitz navigates the film through a series of scenes rich with dialogue. Operation Finale is a dialogue heavy film but none of it is boring. Screenwriter Matthew Orton, in his first feature, has established himself rather nicely as someone to watch. In the film’s most tense moments, Kingsley and Isaac play verbal cat and mouse as Peter’s desire to finally have some closure is at the forefront. Isaac plays the role with the subtlety that is necessary to a film like this. For that matter, so does Kingsley. I wouldn’t say these are two award wining performances. Rather, it is just the quality of work we’ve come to expect from these two.
The rest of cast performs very admirably as well. Laurent plays a doctor who seemingly has a past with Peter although the two’s relationship seems forced. The resolutions they come to when tackling conflict don’t really feel earned yet together on screen they are interesting enough to watch. The movie drifts in and out of their past and seems to only come back to our attention when the plot thickens and more of Peter’s past and motivations are revealed.
When it comes to the other cast members, Nick Kroll’s work in the film feels different than what he’s done before. Michael Aronov who’s credits mostly include TV shows, plays an interrogator in a solid, understated performance. Haley Lu Richardson who was incredible in last year’s Columbus, has a brief role. She isn’t given much to do but regardless her character is able to make an impact in what little screen time she has.
What Operation Finale truly suffers from is its pacing. The film runs just over two hours and the pacing slogs for much of it. Towards the middle of the film is where it really starts to slow down. Even though most of what’s happening on screen is great, as a viewer you wonder when the film is going to pick up. It certainly has its tense moments including a final scene very reminiscent of Argo. The movie, for all it’s positives, is ultimately dragged down because it is so slow. With 20-30 minutes cut out of this movie, it could’ve been a big end of the summer sleeper. The films dialogue may be great, but it isn’t evocative of classic Hollywood movies like Casablanca where the dialogue is terrific as well. There’s no rule that says Operation Finale has to be Casablanca, I wasn’t expecting that at all. Yet, if your film relies on dialouge heavily, two hours is a long time to keep people interested even with the most tantalizing of subjects.
This is a film with great potential. It’s an amazing story and Weitz and Orton tell it in a film that is certainly above average. Dialouge lovers may take a liking to this movie. Others who prefer their World War II movies with a bit more action will be bored to tears. Operation Finale is a film you’ll think about on the way home. Unfortunately, you may remember it more for its enthralling real life basis rather than its cinematic virtues.