Around a decade or so ago I won some free tickets to a World War II chase movie that was, as these things go, based on a true story. In watching this film, I felt a similar set of complex feelings that I did in viewing that previous film, which like this one was aimed at a niche group of viewers interested in the Jewish history of World War II. This film, it must be noted, is about the Massoud operation to extract Adolf Eichmann from his Argentine refuge and bring him to justice in Israel, to publicly put to rest one of the main figures in the extermination of Jews and demonstrate their status as a civilized nation. It’s a very good film–not a pleasant film by any means–but clearly a worthwhile passion project, as its lead actor Oscar Isaac, who plays the late Peter Malkin, is also a producer of the film, and Ben Kingsley does a great job playing the repellent Eichmann, with a lesser known but talented cast in strong supporting roles. This film is likely not going to make a huge amount of money, but it is worthy of some hardware come award season, as this is precisely the sort of film that deserves some critical acclaim and some long-term memorability.
One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it demonstrates the imperfection of the effort to go after Eichmann and bring him to justice. Indeed, there is a fair amount of bungling all around here. The movie begins with the murder of a man who was mistakenly thought to be Eichmann in full view of his young son, and although Eichmann was successfully kidnapped and taken to Israel (spoiler alert–the good guys win), the process was not an easy one. Indeed, the film asks a lot of dark questions and contains an ominous mood of continuing anti-semitism, reminding the audience not so subtly that the world is still hostile to Jews and that Israel and the Jewish people as a whole maintain their sense of dignity as a civilized people at the cost of being forced to go outside the law sometimes and having to continually fight against their own dark human nature, something we see over and over again here as Eichmann’s smugness and oiliness push the members of the group send to seize him to the brink of losing all restraint.
There are a lot of ironies in this film. For one, Eichmann appears in part to be part of the celebrity lecture circuit, telling the same well-worn tale about defending his country, while also serving as a blue-collar foreman at a manufacturing plant. One of the local Jews tries to steal money from the operation, only to be tortured by the local unreconstructed Nazi population. Eichmann shows himself over and over again to be deeply concerned about the well-being of his family, while having not been concerned about the well-being of the families he so carelessly slaughtered as a high-ranking Nazi. Indeed, Eichmann’s arrest came about because his eldest son managed to catch the interest of an attractive local young woman who had been raised as a Catholic and did not originally know that she was a Jew. Overall, the film is pretty fierce about reminding viewers that the horrors of war stick with others, and that the price of remaining a functioning adult seeking justice in an unjust world is dealing with a lot of damage, something this film manages to convincingly portray through its vivid glimpse of the PTSD of some of its characters, for whom the past simply does not die but must be confronted over and over again.