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Eichmann's Finale

In 1960, members of the Mossad — Israel's intelligence service — carried out one of the most daring missions of their, or anyone else's, careers. Tracking the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, down to Argentina, the Israelis captured the Nazi and secreted him back to Israel, where he was tried and executed for his role in the deaths of 6 million Jews. Writing at Tablet, Liel Leibovitz not only reviews an upcoming movie about the Mossad mission, but makes a connection to his own family:

When I was young, my parents had a good friend named Tzvika. He was a bald man with big eyes and a wide smile, the sort of uncle who can make a room cheerier just by walking in and saying hello. I always assumed he was some sort of artist, because he showed me drawings he’d done many years earlier, haunting pastels etched with fury on the pages of a travel guide to Buenos Aires. He’d gone to Argentina, my parents told me later, to kidnap a man named Adolf Eichmann and bring him to justice in Israel.

Tzvika is better known as Peter Malkin, and the story of his role in capturing, guarding, and transporting the architect of the Final Solution to Jerusalem is the subject of Operation Finale, a wildly thrilling new film...

But at its heart, Operation Finale is a tango between captor and captive, and Isaac and Kingsley sparkle as two men who understand that they’ve no choice but to allow the other his humanity. To convince Eichmann to sign the papers needed to get him on board the flight to Tel Aviv—El Al, in Weitz’s telling, requires the passenger’s consent—Malkin has to allow his prisoner increasing doses of dignity, from a smoke and a shave to real emotional intimacy. And the Nazi, in turn, tries to curry favor with the Mossadnik by asking him about his sister Fruma, executed in some frozen forest by the genocidal machine Eichmann had helped design. Begging for news of his own family—he lets out a blood-curdling yelp when he realizes Malkin and his colleagues had done no harm to his wife and his sons—Eichmann trades in empathy, struggling to convince Malkin that he’s capable of feeling his pain. He may not be: The manipulative creep we see in flashbacks, wearing eyeliner, an SS uniform, and an overcoat as he stands haughtily above pits stacked with bodies, like a ghoulish rock star on a stage looking down at his fans, is never far from the surface. As the two men try to decipher each other, the audience does, too, which makes the movie eminently suspenseful even to those of us who’ve read all there is to read about Eichmann’s trial and execution.

This is not only a cinematic achievement, but an emotional one as well. Weitz is confident enough to let us entertain Eichmann’s reasoning as well as Malkin’s, and he trusts us to find our own way out of the moral thickets that grow when you spend too much time listening to a personable and convincing Nazi. In an age when too many filmmakers fashion their work into banners advancing their political pieties, Weitz gives us something much more valuable, a study in unruly feelings and the extremes we sometimes go to when we strive for or run away from our just deserts...

Tags: Video , History , Israel

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