When I noticed that Operation Finale (2018) was on Netflix, I began wracking my brain. Given how The Legionnaire has reviewed most big movies that have come out in the past couple of years, I was initially incredulous as to how this one was left out from being on the blog. It is also a history piece, and I rarely miss those. It came out in August 2018, and The Legionnaire premiered in January 2019 with Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (2019). I was off by a couple months with Operation Finale. Regardless, I am grateful for a couple reasons. First, that it is on Netflix and I could watch it for (relatively) free. Secondly, there was literally nothing in the theaters that had not been viewed by either myself or Cameron, thus I felt free to pick whatever I fancied. I like to think of the weekends as dealer’s choice. Do not worry, I will get back to your requests.
In the years following World War II, one of the goals of the international community was to bring to justice former Nazis guilty of war crimes. The famous Nuremberg trials saw many high ranking Nazi officials found guilty of a litany of atrocities, the bulk of which were because of the Holocaust. With six million Jews in Europe dead at the hands of the German state, the weight of this sin resulted in the executions and imprisonment of as many as could be found in the immediate aftermath of the war. This is not necessarily covered in Operation Finale, but it does provide useful context because the film starts with Israeli agents led by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) taking up the mantle of Nuremberg and tracking down any remaining Nazis who eluded capture. World War II ended in 1945, and Israel was founded in 1948, but it is a mission that has lasted to this day. It is also one that is fraught with tension and thoughts of revenge for the first person you see Malkin and his team sent to find in 1950 results in the shooting of the wrong man, dragged from his home and family. We then move to Argentina in 1960 where many Nazis fled after World War II, and we learn that one of men most responsible for the extermination of so many Jews, Adolf Eichmann (Sir Ben Kingsley), is living under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement. He had been identified by other German ex-patriots living in Argentina, particularly Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson), who had been unwittingly dating Eichmann’s son Klaus (Joe Alwyn). This information was eventually passed to Israeli intelligence, known as Mossad, who quickly assembled a new team to capture Eichmann, essentially public enemy number one in their book. It was not as simple as snatching Eichmann in the middle of the night, however. Because the Argentinian government at the time was sympathetic to these ex-Nazis (and about to become fascist itself, but that is another story), Israel knew they were not simply going to hand over Eichmann. Instead, they had to insert their kidnap squad in secret, giving them all the usual stuff you give to spies (false papers, etc.). They had to also take Eichmann as stealthily as possible, which they almost accomplish until their attempt results in him leaving his glasses at the scene. When Eichmann does not return home from work one night, Klaus investigates the road outside his house and finds the discarded spectacles, alerting him to the notion that something is amiss. They also need to firmly establish Eichmann’s identity, which involves getting him to sign a document admitting to his actual role in the Holocaust. When their interrogator’s, Zvi Aharoni (Michael Aranov), more direct approach fails, Malkin steps in and begins to attempt to relate more to Eichmann. This is made difficult because every time he sees Eichmann he cannot help but to imagine his sister and her family that died in the Holocaust. Still, he is able to get what they need, and eventually they are able to smuggle the former Nazi out of the country to stand trial in Israel. In their escape, they are nearly nabbed by the Argentinian authorities, but once more Malkin saves the day, getting to the airport control tower so that the plane can depart before those chasing them can arrive. Even though this results in Malkin getting left behind, he is able to make it to Israel in time for the trial. This event gives him closure with the memory of his sister, and that is where the movie ends.
One thing that Operation Finale attempts to convey is that locating those responsible for the Holocaust was not about revenge. That may have been the motivation for some of the agents who took part in Eichmann’s capture, but such feelings usually do not serve justice well. Many of those on the team were in favor of just murdering Eichmann. Before they left, Israel’s prime minister David Ben-Gurion (Simon Russell Beale) summed up the situation, saying that if they were to kill Eichmann they would let the memory of the atrocities he helped perpetrate fade from memory. Making him stand before his accusers was about making a statement against such acts. Still, one of the things that I appreciated about the film is that it somewhat humanized Eichmann. He had a family, and he protested during his captivity that he had just been a soldier during World War II following orders. This is part of the message that pure revenge is not best. As a Christian, I appreciate this approach. Undoubtedly, Eichmann was a monster, and when he realizes that he is going to be finally taken to Israel, he lashes out in an anti-Semitic rant that nearly causes Malkin to lose his cool. God abhors the death of his children, and Eichmann was responsible for sending so many to their untimely end. However, his punishment was not about seeing him hang, but rather to serve as a testament to evil and a warning against those who may wish to commit it again.
As much as I like how Operation Finale handled this bit of history, there was one small part that I did not like as a Catholic. While there were some pro-Nazi Catholics that helped get criminals like Eichmann to Argentina, I did not enjoy seeing the nameless priest enthusiastically giving the Nazi salute at the fascist rally that Klaus attends. People see images like this and they think, well, that is just Catholicism for you. No. Emphatically, no. This is a stereotype, as damaging and wrong footed as any other. The ties between the Vatican and the Nazi regime have been well proven to be unfounded, and yet such notions linger enough to where you see priests in these kinds of themes that it unfairly resurrects them. In lieu of telling you to do your own research (though please feel free to do so anyway), suffice it to say that the Catholic Church does not condone the Holocaust or fascism. Have there been Catholics who did awful things in the name of governments or even the Faith itself? Of course. I know I have said this before, and that I will say it again, but this is not what the Church teaches. Luckily, there is ultimate recompense for such people.
As annoyed as I get when movies suggest that Catholicism is tied to the Nazis, I still recommend seeing Operation Finale. Its balanced approach to a sensitive subject is important. Aristotle said, “Law is reason, free from passion.” Legally Blonde (2001) got that right. Nothing inflames passion quite like the knowledge of the Holocaust because we want to see something done to those responsible. It is understandable. However, those same passions can turn us into what we despise, and that is what we need to be careful to avoid. That is the ultimate lesson of this movie.