At the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who had evaded capture for 15 years, philosopher Hannah Arendt outlined the now famous phrase "banality of evil" to describe his actions. In the new film Operation Finale, this term is not explored as it traces the plan to capture Eichmann. Despite some strong performances, the film fails to have little more than a few tense scenes that provide little insight into this real life villain.
Structured as a heist film, Matthew Orton's screenplay focuses on the details of how a group of Mossad and Shin Bet agents pull off Eichmann's capture. The mission is led by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) a man who rarely pays attention to the details but thrives on action. There is quite a bit of interesting moments in the film's first half that details how Eichmann was found in Argentina and captured. The film's second half relies heavily on interrogation scenes where Issac and Ben Kingsley as Eichmann square off with each other.
Director Chris Weitz is a talented filmmaker who has jumped genres several times. Here he provides a sense of tension in every dialogue exchange but fails to provide any examination of the men and women involved. The team is a hodgepodge of one-dimensional assistants. We never get a sense of how deeply affected they all were by the Holocaust and what Eichmann's capture means. There is a odd scene where the team members share their histories but do so in a bragging way, like the scene from Jaws where scars are compared.
Kingsley is strong as Eichmann, often showing the calmness and calculation of the man. It is a testament that Kingsley can play a Nazi convincingly after his memorable turn in Schindler's List. Isaac plays Malkin as a tortured soul and holds his own against Kingsley in their interrogation scenes together. The two have real chemistry, there scenes reminding me of the riveting scenes in Silence of the Lambs between Clarice and Hannibal.
As riveting as those moments are thanks to the strong performances, the screenplay often feels hollow. While we see how things happened, we don't get many insights into Eichmann and his workman like approach to genocide. Operation Finale is an exciting watch and works best as a thriller with a great villain at the center. There is nothing wrong with this but this incredible story demands so much more. The film oozes passion from the filmmakers and actors involved but never tries to peel away at the complex, terrible and banal traits of Eichmann.