Operation Finale is an engrossing wartime drama with the kind of performances and production value that herald the fall movie season to come. Set in 1960, the film follows the real-life effort of Mossad agent Peter Malkin to infiltrate Argentina and capture and extract Adolf Eichmann, the man who engineered the transportation logistics that carried millions of Jews to concentration camps where only death and suffering waited.
While Operation Finale doesn’t soar on all fronts — the wild range of accents is a bit jarring and the context of our heroes feels rather unexplored, but it is a deeply absorbing, skillfully made portrait of the lengths required to hold a fallen regime responsible for its actions. Like all World War II and World War II-adjacent pictures, Operation Finale merits fascination by its very nature. The true stories we tell of the unseen heroes of this struggle resonate both because they are aligned against an unspeakable evil and further because they are stories of normal, average citizens called upon to do extraordinary things.
Sure, most kids dream of being spies and secret agents at some point, but most of us would be flabbergasted to find ourselves in an actual espionage scenario, but here are a bunch of people who walked out on their lives 15 years after the war ended simply because it was the right thing to do. That’s incredibly powerful. And so is the weight of their accomplishment. For that, Operation Finale is spectacularly suspenseful and entertaining, but it falls just short of ascendant.
A sequence in which a young Jewish girl, whose family fled to Argentina, is taken on a date to a covert Nazi rally, by none other than Eichmann’s son. The raw energy and passion on display is haunting. Less successful are the one-on-one exchanges between Isaac and Kingsley. While those conversations must have been spellbinding in person, they have the unfortunate circumstance of being something of a trope, and so feel more like a machination than a natural occurrence of man-versus-man conflict. What is absolutely unforgettable about this picture is Ben Kingsley’s performance. To no one’s surprise, he manages to charm even as a monstrous villain. And when he flips the switch, he brings about a visceral repulsion.
If the charms of shoot ’em up summer blockbusters are starting to wear, you could do far worse than to spend some time with this band of heroes with all of the odds stacked against them.