What would you do if you were alone in a room with Adolf Eichmann? What kind of conversation would you have? These questions come to mind watching “Operation Finale,” which details the 1960 capture of Eichmann, who was living undercover in Buenos Aires. The film stars Oscar Isaac as Mossad agent Peter Malkin and Ben Kingsley as Eichmann.
Though the audience knows how this story ends, the way this part of it unfolds is thrilling.
The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are electric. They make conversation about the past — Eichmann said he tried to help the Jews — and chitchat like friends over a beer.
In one memorable moment, as Eichmann sits in a safe house, Malkin lathers cream on the Nazi’s face and gives him a shave. As Malkin calmly glides the razor across the former SS officer’s face, he has to restrain himself from creating a Sweeney Todd-esque situation or dangerously oversharing. Malkin’s aim is to disarm Eichmann enough to get him to sign a paper consenting to be put on an El Al flight to Israel where he will be tried for his crimes.
The group of Mossad spies tasked with kidnapping Eichmann are made up of an equally strong supporting cast, including Israeli actor Lior Raz as the head of Mossad; Greg Hill as Moshe Tabor, who would snap Eichmann’s neck without batting an eye if only his superiors would let him; and comedian Nick Kroll.
The film is accented by an extremely effective score by Alexandre Desplat, and features many lasting moments.
One occurs early on when Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn), Eichmann’s nephew, brings his girlfriend Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) — who finds out right before this that she is actually Jewish and the blind uncle she lives with was a survivor of a death camp — to a meeting in which prominent political leaders and priests raise their arms in Nazi salutes, shout “Sieg Heil!” and vow to get rid of the Jews infesting Buenos Aires like roaches.
Eichmann is not reduced to a one-sided monstrous villain in the film. He buys flowers for his wife on their anniversary. He watches trains go by with his young son. He cracks jokes — dark ones, but jokes nonetheless — and it feels unsettling to find yourself chuckling in response.
“It is not my interpretation or my version of Eichmann,” Kingsley said in an interview with Inverse. “I’m sorry to say over and over again: This man had children, this man had a wife, this man ate sausages, drank beer. He did not land from Mars.
“I would be doing history and his victims a terrible disservice if I pretended he was a two-dimensional comic strip villain. I’m sorry to say that he was a human being.” JN
This article first appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.