Operation Finale moves with steady if unsatisfying progress. It navigates a narrative path that bares a noticeable resemblance to Academy Award winners of its past, not even remotely concerned with camouflaging its numerous hackneyed influences or banal passages intended to provide clip-worthy fodder moments of capital A Acting. If you told me Ben Affleck directed Operation Finale I wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, it’s Chris Weitz. A swift Google search jogs my memory of the filmmaker’s quote unquote credentials: he directed the Oscar-nominated A Better Life. He also did one of those Twilight films. Well, at least he’s consistent. With Operation Finale, Weitz tackles the Holocaust. There’s a throughline in between these three films I’m missing but I’m certain it’s there.
Set in Argentina, Operation Finale details an Israeli spy team’s attempts to extricate Nazi-in-hiding Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). The best passages of the film happen early, where Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating Klaus (Joe Alwyn), Adolph’s son. The half-Jewish woman ends up in contact with Argentina’s populous of Nazis and anti-Semites, which, you know: Trump. It’s laid out bluntly but unlike, say, Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman, writer Matthew Orton lacks the wit and Weitz lacks the formal bravado to really elevate any of these timely remarks as anything more than cheap, in vogue pops intended to reaffirm audiences of the principle ideals of human decency. Which, while all well and good, is fundamentally useless if you’re not providing a counterpoint to challenge that ideal; instead we have rhetoric without value.
Unfortunately, Richardson’s role in the film is drastically reduced, and we’re confronted with the bulk of the picture, which is a series of blasé exchanges between Israeli intelligence as they put together a plan to kidnap Eichmann. These performers are more or less confined to generic character traits, whether it be Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) as the self-described comedian, the tough-as-nails leader Isser Harel (Lior Raz), or romantic interest Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent). Sequences, such as the eventual capture of Eichmann, are handled in the most absurdly insipid fashion. You’d imagine that a tête-à-tête dedicated to Isaac and Kingsley to be quite a showcase, but even that lands with a resounding thud before collapsing into a sequence lifted directly from Argo. I’ve certainly seen worse films this year (Jurassic World II) and even a few more that squander their potential (Ocean’s 8, Black Panther), but Operation Finale is of a different variety all together. The ratio of potentially cinematic moments rendered uncinematic is so vast that you can’t help but suggest that Weitz and Orton accomplished something.