3 Stars – Powerful
Seeking justice when everything within you wants revenge is not easy. For the millions of Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust but lost father, mother, sister, brother, child, the natural human emotion is to take matters into their own hands and murder those who perpetrated these horrors. But to do so is to become an “animal” no different from such Nazi SS officers as Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann, the “architect” of the Holocaust.
Presenting the historical facts to begin the film, we are told that in 1960 the Israeli government became aware that Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) was living in Argentina. Deciding that bringing him to trial in Israel would provide not only justice and healing but also warning, they sent a team of operatives to secure him. This effort is the basis for the film Operation Finale.
Based on the book Eichmann in My Hands, written by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), one of the Mossad operatives involved in the mission, the film is directed by Chris Weitz with the screenplay by Matthew Orton. The operation itself was simple: make sure the suspect is in fact Eichmann, capture him and fly him to Israel for trial. But nothing is as simple as its planing suggests.
Since the film is based on the inner thoughts and experiences of Malkin, he is the most complex character in the story and provides the moral struggle with which we can identify. We won’t spoil the film by revealing the details, but it is clear that Malkin is a troubled and reactive man who often betrays his Massad training. His supervisor does not want to use him on this sensitive mission because of his volatility. But when his skills are uniquely needed he joins the team. It is in him, but not him alone, that we have the struggle between vengeance and justice. Revealing the several layers of such a temptation we walk with Malkin in his nuanced interrogation of the sociopath while at the same time he himself is being manipulated and abused.
The ensemble cast and the dramatic pacing are fitting for a suspense film. If it were fiction and we did not know the historical fact of its outcome we would just be entertained. But knowing what is at stake the knowledge of the outcome does not lessen the suspense. The fact that the Nazi presence in Argentina was waiting for a moment to strike and take over that government, is not unlike the Nazi movement in many nations now almost 60 years latter. The danger of dehumanizing a group of people and then treating them like animals does, as Eichmann says in this film, makes “animals” of us all. May it not be so and may we, in the face of horrific racist and genocidal evil seek justice and not vengeance, for if we do not then we surely destroy ourselves as evil begets evil within us all.
- Ben Kingsley played the title role of Ghandi and presented his non-violence resistance in order to libertate the Indian people from colonial rule. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. adapted Ghandi’s non-violence in his struggle for the African-American people. In this film Mossad operatives did not use violence to kill but trusted in the courts to bring justice. What relationship between non-violence resistance and the use of the courts to bring justice do you support? Why do you answer as you do?
- The argument of Eichmann is that he should not be held personally responsible for what the Nazi government did. He claims he was only following orders. Even if he was not the one giving the orders, as he was, do you agree that a soldier should have no choice but to fulfill the orders of the President, or Fuhrer or Military Commander? The United States Uniform Code of Military Justice says that an American is responsible only for a lawful order and not unlawful ones. How often do you think this is true?
- The trial and death of Eichmann is called Operation Finale in this film, yet it is obvious this is not the final page in the Nazi threat to humanity. What do you think will end this threat?