OPERATION FINALE (2018)

August 29, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Historical dramas, by definition, carry added depth and weight to stories that sometimes seem almost beyond belief. Such is the true story of the 1960 Mossad mission to capture Adolph Eichmann, the noted architect of the Final Solution, who was hiding in plain sight in Argentina. You might think there have already been enough Holocaust movies, but director Chris Weitz (ABOUT A BOY) hones in on the personal aspects of loss and anger, and the need for justice.

Matthew Orton’s first screenplay benefits greatly from a terrific cast, especially the two main characters played by Ben Kingsley (Adolph Eichmann) and Oscar Isaac (Mossad agent Peter Malkin). Sir Ben is notably restrained in his performance of the last surviving mastermind of the Holocaust, and one of the most despised men on the planet. His subdued performance aligns perfectly with the “ordinary” man of which we’ve since read. Mr. Isaac adds the element of psychology in his “good cop” approach to getting Eichmann to crack.

Playing much like a heist movie, we see the team assembled and the quite convoluted plan devised. The high risk strategy underscores the desperation so many felt in their need to see Eichmann pay for his atrocities. The manhunt required some political tip-toeing, and we even gain a history lesson on the role of the Catholic Church. A tip from a “secret” Jewish daughter (Haley Lu Richardson) and her father (Peter Strauss) set things in motion. Sylvia (Ms. Richardson) actually dates Klaus Eichmann (played by Joe Alwyn), who is a picture-perfect Aryan carrying on the horrid Nazi tradition of hatred.

Of course, Klaus is the son of Adolph, and the one who spills the beans about his father being “a big deal” in the war … thereby ruining the quiet and mostly unassuming life they have been living with Adolph’s wife (a nearly unrecognizable Greta Scacchi). Sylvia and Klaus meet at a movie when she shushes him and his friends. Director Weitz even includes a clip of IMITATION OF LIFE (1959), a film that not coincidentally stars his mother, Susan Kohner. It’s a nice touch.

Much of the film takes place in the safe house where Adolph Eichmann is blindfolded and spoon-fed. It’s here that the psychological games and political maneuverings begin. Supporting actors who add strength to the film include team members Melanie Laurent (Hanna), Michael Aranov (chief negotiator Zvi), Lior Raz (as the demanding team director), Nick Kroll, and Simon Russell Beale (as Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion). There is a history of bumpy romance between Hanna and Peter, though it adds little to the story.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is terrific, especially during a creative and informative opening credit sequence. “Who did you lose?” is a recurring question throughout, as it’s 1960 and everyone involved lost someone – a driving force behind their persistence and commitment to the cause. The film is focused on the mission to capture, not the details of the subsequent trial; however it does close with archival photos of the actual trial – adding historical relevance to this fine dramatization.

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A BETTER LIFE

July 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Surprisingly, this movie doesn’t choose sides in the political hot potato that is immigration reform. Instead, it plays as an intimate story of hope and desperation centered around the daily life of a father and son.

The father is Carlos (played by veteran actor Demian Bichir), an undocumented worker in Los Angeles who scrapes by working as a gardener and landscaper for another illegal immigrant. Carlos is raising a 15 year old son who was born in the U.S. They are alone because the mother bolted after discovering the high life available in this great country. Carlos, on the other hand, believes in work ethic and the bond of a handshake. His son Luis (Jose Julian) is fighting the daily battle of the streets – whether to join a gang for respect. Luis shows little outward respect for his hard-working father, who comes home sweaty and exhausted every day of the week.

 When Carlos’ boss approaches him about buying his truck and tools, Carlos first balks because he simply has no money, and he is intent on remaining “invisible”. In his case, a simple traffic stop would mean deportation and the loss of his son. After a night of pondering, he borrows the money from his sister and buys the truck. Carlos tells his son that things will soon be better – better house, better school, etc. Luis is dubious and offers little support.

The story takes a turn when the truck is stolen by a day worker whom Carlos was trying to help. If you have ever seen Vittorio de Sica‘s The Bicycle Thief, you will recognize some similarities. Father and son grow closer as they hunt for the thief. Luis sees his father’s thoughtful actions and has trouble processing his calculated methods. The youngster is more about lashing out to show power. It’s the only method he has seen at his school. Father knows best comes into play here.

 The film is interesting enough and the scenes with both father and son are exceptional. As a whole, the film seems a bit lacking as we really only get glimpses of the desperation and confusion that these two face every day – in completely different ways. It’s directed by Chris Weitz, who has an unusual resume which includes both Twilight: New Moon and About a Boy. His newest film really just reiterates what we already know about illegal immigrants. Some are here to milk the system, while others are here for ‘a better life’.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are up for a nice little story about a single dad and his struggle to provide a future for his son

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a fight on the topic of immigration reform.