Operation Finale


The banality of evil.

(2018) True Life Drama (MGMOscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Michel Benjamin Hernandez, Joe Alwyn, Greta Scachi, Peter Strauss, Haley Lu Richardson, Pêpê Rapazote, Rainer Reiners, Simon Russell Beale, Rocio Muñoz, Rita Pauls, Ania Luzarth, Tatiana Rodriguez, Antonia Desplat. Directed by Chris Weitz

 

When describing Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of Hitler’s Final Solution and who organized the transportation of millions of Jews to concentration camps, historian Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” Eichmann was one of two high-profile Nazis who managed to escape Germany before the Nuremberg trials (Josef Mengele was the other). This film is about the efforts of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and their efforts to capture Eichmann who had fled to Argentina and bring him to trial in Jerusalem.

Kingsley plays Eichmann with as a man of iron wrapped in a cardigan sweater. He is hunted by a team dispatched by Mossad chief Isser Harel (Raz) and led by Rafi Eltan (Kroll) with operatives including interrogator Peter Mendel (Isaac) and physician Hanna Elian (Laurent). Mendel is particularly haunted by the deaths of his sister and her family at the hands of the Nazis.

Told in the style of a spy thriller but lacking the twists and turns of a good one, Weitz manages to keep the dramatic tension at a decent level (although not an extraordinary one) and benefits from powerful performances from Kingsley, from whom we have come to expect them, and Isaac who is rapidly becoming a big star in his own right.

The movie flew under the radar when it was released in the dog days of August back in 2018 which is a bit of a shame; it deserved a better fate. That can be rectified however as you have the opportunity to catch this via a variety of streaming platforms, listed below. It is worth your while to do so.

REASONS TO SEE: Strong performances by Isaac and Kingsley. There’s a good sense of dramatic tension.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times the film feels a little bloodless.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are decidedly adult and there are some graphic images related to that; there is also some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Benjamin Hernandez is the younger brother of Oscar Isaac.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Epix,  Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:
Munich
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Wife

The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)


In the back alleys of postwar West Germany, things could get pretty dicey.

In the back alleys of postwar West Germany, things could get pretty dicey.

(2015) True Life Drama (Cohen Media Group) Burghart Klauẞner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Schenk, Sebastian Blomberg, Jörg Schüttauf, Stefan Gebelhoff, Pierre Shrady, Gȏtz Schubert, Laura Tonke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Daniel Krauss, Rüdiger Klink, Carolin Stähler, Daniel Krauss, Nikolai Will, Stephan Grossmann, Lavinia Kiessler. Directed by Lars Kraume

 

Few nations have committed atrocities on as large a scale as Nazi Germany did. Following the war and the fall of Hitler, it is understandable that the divided Germany would want to put their deeds behind them, but in fact it was taken to extremes with the Germans often refusing to acknowledge that such atrocities took place – or that those who committed them still roamed free.

Fritz Bauer (Klauẞner) wasn’t one of those. A lawyer of Jewish descent, he had spent time in a concentration camp early on before being deported to Denmark. After the war, he returned home to Frankfurt to resume his career, rising to the position of State Attorney General. One of his obsessions was to see Adolph Eichmann (Schenk), one of the architects of the Final Solution, brought to justice.

Bauer was not a charismatic man but he was a dogged one. Assisted by the equally dogged Karl Angermann (Zehrfeld) who was one of the few operatives in his office he could actually trust – the others either were disinterested in is cause or were actively opposed to it, reporting his moves to higher-ups who had ties to the Nazi regime that might be revealed if former Nazis were brought to trial – he discovered that Eichmann was living under an assumed name in Argentina.

Frustrated at every turn by a government that was patronizing or actively opposing his attempts to bring Eichmann to justice, Bauer would do something that would be considered treason: he informed Israeli’s intelligence agency Mossad of Eichmann’s whereabouts and misled people in his own office as to where that was so that they couldn’t warn Eichmann before the Israeli’s could set up an ambush and take Eichmann out of South America. However, even the Israelis would break Bauer’s heart.

This is a stark, gripping movie that reminded me strongly of the Cold War spy thrillers of the 50s through the 70s, with double and triple crosses going on and a pervasive feeling of paranoia which wasn’t entirely unjustified. Klauẞner who is one of Germany’s leading actors, wears a wig that can only be called Bernie Sanders-esque and resembles one of those eccentric professors who stalks the room while he lectures. Klauẞner wisely doesn’t over-emote, retaining Bauer’s professorial demeanor but showing him to have a will of iron.

Zehrfeld, whom some might remember for his performance in Phoenix is equally good. Angermann looks at Bauer as a mentor and a father figure. Both men have skeletons in their closet that are similar in nature and both men are under pressure to drop the Eichmann pursuit or risk having their closet doors opened. Zehrfeld, a family man with a promising career, is caught between bringing justice to a monster who murdered millions or saving himself by denouncing his mentor and allowing the monster to go free. It’s not an easy choice and Zehrfeld makes us feel Angermann’s anguish.

It should be said that Angermann is actually a composite character – he didn’t exist as portrayed here. It should also be said that Kraume who also co-wrote the movie treats some rumors as fact and fudges a bit on the history. Still, much of what is seen here comes from Bauer’s own journals and reports which only recently became public knowledge. It also brought to light the difficulty in overcoming his own government, although it would only be a few years later that the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials would become reality, again due to Bauer’s persistence.

I found the movie gripping, if a bit slow-moving. Those with limited attention spans might squirm some during the interminable backroom deal brokering and strolls through the streets of Frankfurt, smoking thoughtfully. The subject matter is so fascinating and the performance so riveting that this should definitely be under your consideration to see forthwith as one of the best movies released so far this year.

REASONS TO GO: The performances by Klauẞner and Zehrfeld in particular were intense. Nicely captures the feeling of a Cold War-era thriller. Nicely illustrates the tunnel vision that nations possess.
REASONS TO STAY: Some liberties were taken with historical fact. A little bit drab.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content and a whole lot of smoking going on.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It garnered the most German Film Awards (a.k.a. the Lolas) nominations this year with nine, with six of the nominations earning wins including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Zehrfeld).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Labyrinth of Lies
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle commences!