Adolf Eichmann, a major German war criminal who orchestrated the deportation of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in 1944, was brought to justice in 1960 when the Mossad abducted him in Argentina and flew him to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Operation Finale, an original Netflix production directed by Chris Weitz, is now available on the Netflix streaming network. Starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, it’s a competently-crafted feature film just over two hours in length.
Masquerading as Ricardo Klement in Buenos Aires, Eichmann was a high-ranking SS officer who played a pivotal role in implementing the Holocaust. After Germany’s defeat, he escaped to Austria and then, like scores of Nazi war criminals, found a haven in Argentina.
He and his family lived a quiet and uneventful life in a suburb of the city. He earned a living as a manual worker and then as a manager in a Mercedes car factory. He was unmasked after Eichmann’s son, Klaus, began dating Sylvia Hermann, a half-Jewish woman of German descent whose father had immigrated to Argentina in 1938.
Operation Finale, which unfolds between his capture and his execution in 1962, is mostly faithful to actual events.
Eichmann is accurately portrayed as a colorless person whose dislike of Jews is deeply ingrained in his bland personality. Although he was one of the most important Nazis to elude detection following World War II, Israel, at first, showed little interest in capturing him. Israel’s attitude changed after Fritz Bauer, a German-Jewish prosecutor in West Germany, convinced the director of the Mossad, Isser Harel (Lior Raz), that Klement was really Eichmann.
The film focuses on the Mossad’s operational preparations to nab Eichmann, a creature of habit who commuted to work and back again at exactly the same time each day. Before they embark on their historic mission, the members of the Mossad team are briefly addressed by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who speaks of the importance of their task.
The Mossad agent who grabs Eichmann in the dark of night on a lonely stretch of road near his home is Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), who’s assailed by memories of the Holocaust. Thrown into a car, Eichmann improbably insists he’s a Jew from Palestine. But after a series of interrogations in a safe house, he cracks and admits he’s Eichmann. Malkin is sorely tempted to murder him, but is restrained by Hanna (Melanie Laurent), a physician on the Mossad kidnap squad.
The plan is to place Eichmann on an El Al passenger plane bound for Tel Aviv, but the aircraft is delayed. As he waits for its arrival, Malkin continues interrogating Eichmann, promising him he will receive a fair trial in Israel. Eichmann, who’s usually blindfolded, insists on being tried in West Germany.
Eichmann’s physical connection to the Holocaust is encapsulated in a vivid flashback during which he wears an SS uniform splattered with the blood of scores of Jews who’ve been shot by soldiers brandishing rifles.
Realizing that the death penalty awaits him in Israel, Eichmann tries to ingratiate himself with Malkin. Claiming he attempted to save Jews by means of various schemes, he mentions the half-baked plans to send Jews to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and to trade Hungarian Jews for Allied military vehicles in the unsuccessful “trucks for lives” ploy.
As Eichmann stews in the Mossad’s safe house, his Nazi acquaintances in Buenos Aires search high and low for him, hoping they can find him before he’s whisked off to Israel. This, in fact, never happened. But these scenes, for whatever they’re worth, spice up the movie.
Kingsley hardly resembles Eichmann, but he impersonates him with understated intensity. The rest of the cast is also quite compelling. Operation Finale, a workmanlike account of a daring kidnapping, is a sharp reminder that most Nazi war criminals would ultimately face retribution.