Despite its engaging performances, this real-life story about Israel's hunt for a war criminal moves through rote plot points with uninventive efficiency.
Any cognitive dissonance that may arise from watching Ben Kingsley—the actor who played Gandhi—interpret genocidal monster Adolf Eichmann dissipates quickly in Operation Finale: Kingsley delivers a complex and masterful performance, generating more empathy for a Nazi than you might expect. Oscar Isaac is effective as the Israeli agent on his tail in 1960s Argentina, and their weighty interactions at a safe house call to mind Clarice Starling’s early encounters with Hannibal Lecter—a younger agent battling a seasoned villain through a chess-like sequence of probing, dueling dialogues.
Still, Isaac can't match Kingsley’s subtle bravado. And that one-sided power dynamic raises a thorny issue: What happens when your Nazi mastermind is the most compelling thing about a historical drama? In Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg solved a similar challenge by leveraging rich, relatable performances from Kingsley and Liam Neeson against the hypnotic vitriol of Ralph Fiennes’s vicious lieutenant. But director Chris Weitz's Operation Finale fails to offer a noble character who can offset the frightening charms of Kingsley's Eichmann (a fleeting exception: Simon Russell Beale's 90 seconds as eloquent prime minister David Ben Gurion).
The technical elements of the film are strong, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is outstanding, but the cast deserves a better script than first-timer Matthew Orton’s workmanlike effort. Rarely does the movie spark terror or raise the pulse; it is neither gripping nor ambivalent enough to command the respect of Spielberg’s similarly-themed Munich. But as a showdown of wits, it’s engaging enough, with Kingsley wrangling memorable nuance from an unlikely role.
Cast and crew