Friday, September 21, 2018
Movies

Review: Riveting performances rescue uneven pacing of ‘Operation Finale’

Can a person do evil things in the course of their hum-drum job without actually being evil? That was the question historian Hannah Arendt famously posed in the New Yorker, detailing the 1961 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. She declared the bland bureaucrat "terrifyingly normal" and dubbed his actions "the banality of evil."

Ben Kingsley’s performance in Operation Finale, which opens Wednesday, channels this impression. It’s especially chilling when his character is faced with Oscar Isaac’s moral outrage as Peter Malkin, the Israeli Mossad agent who captures Eichmann hiding in plain sight in Argentina.

Eichmann was called the architect of the Final Solution, the man who made the trains run on time and orchestrated the killing of more than 6 million people. He tried to cast himself as a bureaucrat caught up in a system in a country he loved. Unlike other top Nazi officers, he escaped after the war and lived a fairly normal life in Argentina until he was discovered.

This true story of one of the most daring spy capers in history unfolded this past summer for visitors of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, where the artifacts and declassified spy materials were laid out in an enthralling exhibit. Its curator, retired Mossad agent Avner Avraham, served as a consultant on the film.

PREVIOUSLY:From St. Petersburg museum to Hollywood, ‘Operation Finale’ curator talks about daring Nazi spy tale

Kingsley as Eichmann shrugs off his crimes. "Our work was paperwork." And he talks of higher-ups urging him to save his country. He’s shown doting on his wife and taking his young child to look at trains going by, which echoes the trains he scheduled to move millions to their deaths.

The duality of what is good takes on many layers in the film. "A bullet would be easier," one Israeli agent grouses as they set up a safe house to hide Eichmann. And another questions, "Why make him famous? Let’s put him down like the mad dog he is." Putting him on trial is considered the moral high ground.

But, but, but … The plot to kidnap Eichmann violated all kinds of international laws. The new government of Israel got a substantial tip that Eichmann was living with his family in Argentina and was working for Mercedes-Benz. But they didn’t trust the Argentine government and worried that Eichmann, like so many other escaped Nazis before him, would be tipped off and flee before he could be captured legally.

So the Mossad team, using the cover of Argentina’s 150th anniversary celebration, sneaked in agents with the plan of bringing him to Israel to stand trial instead of shooting him like a dog. They break some laws in one country to set justice in motion in another.

Having seen the St. Petersburg exhibit, you might know what’s coming next. But Matthew Orton’s script takes a break from all the spy caper business when the team is told after they’ve captured their prey that they can’t leave for Israel right away and have to hide in the safe house for 10 days. This pause allows for several somber scenes to reflect on the psychological damage and survivors’ guilt of the Mossad team.

This is where the Isaac versus Kingsley scenes get electric. "Whom did we take from you, Peter?" Eichmann asks his captor. The question is both paternal and chilling in its curiosity, and the answer is devastating. The face off between the Oscar winner and the charming rising star is worth the price of admission.

But this rest stop in the safe house is also where the movie, directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy) hits the brakes too hard. The action hadn’t quite reached nail-biting level yet, and the drama doesn’t get the room it needs either.

A fake Argo-like airport escape with dangers that never really happened serves its cinematic arc. But then the movie only glosses over the most riveting part of the Eichmann exhibit at the museum: the worldwide broadcast of his trial that brought out testimony from Holocaust survivors. It was 15 years after the war and many had not even told their children the horrors they had experienced.

Still, in a year that saw neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, a movie that recalls how everyday bureaucrats played a part in the Holocaust is a worthy reminder of the banality of evil. And maybe it’s a good reminder that it’s not so ordinary after all.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.

Comments
At 50, Clearwater's real-life superhero is hanging up his super suit

At 50, Clearwater's real-life superhero is hanging up his super suit

CLEARWATER — For two decades, Dale Pople patrolled the streets feeding the homeless, helping old people carry groceries, extinguishing a car fire. He wore a red, yellow and blue Spandex outfit with an SH emblem: "Super Hero." Now, Clearwater&...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Gilda Radner is remembered in her own words in the documentary ‘Love, Gilda’

Gilda Radner is remembered in her own words in the documentary ‘Love, Gilda’

With the aid of rare audio recordings, the late Saturday Night Live comic force Gilda Radner narrates the story of her life in the new documentary Love, Gilda, opening Friday at Tampa Theatre.But it wasn’t easy initially for director Lisa D’Apolito t...
Published: 09/20/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls,’ ‘Life Itself,’ locally filmed ‘The Favorite’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls,’ ‘Life Itself,’ locally filmed ‘The Favorite’

NOW PLAYING: THE FAVORITEFilmed in Pinellas County, the faith-based movie The Favorite continues its run in local theaters this week. It follows two brothers (Matthew Fahey and Luke Bernard, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on his own life) rec...
Published: 09/19/18
‘Smokey and the Bandit’ returns to theaters today, honoring Burt Reynolds

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ returns to theaters today, honoring Burt Reynolds

For the next nine days, AMC Theaters will take you east bound and down once more as the late Burt Reynolds’ iconic 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit returns to theaters in the Tampa Bay area.The theater chain announced it will be bringing Bandit, Fred,...
Published: 09/12/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Predator,’ ‘A Simple Favor,’ ‘White Boy Rick,’ ‘Unbroken’ sequel

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Predator,’ ‘A Simple Favor,’ ‘White Boy Rick,’ ‘Unbroken’ sequel

OPENING FRIDAY: The Predator A young boy (Jacob Tremblay) inadvertently prompts the return to Earth of the now genetically enhanced killing creatures. With Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown. Direc...
Published: 09/12/18
Glenn Close is a six-time Oscar nominee. With ‘The Wife,’ she deserves to finally win.

Glenn Close is a six-time Oscar nominee. With ‘The Wife,’ she deserves to finally win.

When The Wife first appeared on the festival circuit last year, the call went up almost immediately: This, finally, might be the movie to win Glenn Close the Oscar that has eluded her over the course of six — count-’em — six nominations.The movie is ...
Published: 09/11/18
Burt Reynolds, who described Tampa as 'my other hometown,' dies at 82

Burt Reynolds, who described Tampa as 'my other hometown,' dies at 82

Burt Reynolds, whose blend of Southern-fried machismo and wise-guy playfulness launched his worldwide celebrity in the 1970s, first as a freewheeling chat-show guest, then as a nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine and finally as a Hollywood actio...
Published: 09/06/18
Updated: 09/07/18
Oscars’ popular film award is postponed after backlash

Oscars’ popular film award is postponed after backlash

The organization that bestows the Academy Awards says it is suspending plans to award a new Oscar for popular films amid widespread backlash to the idea. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it will further study plans for the categor...
Updated one month ago
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Peppermint,’ ‘The Nun,’ ‘God Bless the Broken Road’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Peppermint,’ ‘The Nun,’ ‘God Bless the Broken Road’

OPENING FRIDAY:THE NUNA troubled priest (Demian Bichir, above) and a novitiate sent by the Vatican to investigate a suicide and an abbey in Romania are confronted by the same malevolent force from The Conjuring 2. With Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, ...
Updated one month ago
What’s in theaters Labor Day weekend: ‘Operation Finale,’ ‘Searching,’ ‘Kin’

What’s in theaters Labor Day weekend: ‘Operation Finale,’ ‘Searching,’ ‘Kin’

NOW PLAYING: OPERATION FINALE Oscar Isaac plays an Israeli agent tasked with spiriting Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley, right) out of Argentina to stand trial for war crimes 15 years after World War II. The case was the subject of a...
Updated one month ago