Washington, D.C. - Operation Finale, from Director Chris Weitz, brings to theaters the incredible true story of how a group of Mossad agents captured and brought Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann to Israel to face trial in the 1960s. The film had its D.C. premiere at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday night, and Townhall caught up with a few of the film's stars on the red carpet.
Mossad was just a "fledgling" organization in the 60s, Weitz said, so the fact they pulled off the capture was nothing short of "shocking." Grabbing Eichmann was just the first challenge, though. The second, perhaps more difficult, challenge was the team's need to practice self-restraint. Each Mossad member had their own reasons for wanting to strangle Eichmann as soon as they had him in their grasp, but they knew their larger goal was justice, not revenge. The only true way to hold him accountable was to bring him in for a trial.
In fact, the most gripping, heart-pounding scenes in Operation Finale involve no physical violence at all. Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley does a stellar job in the film nailing the nuances needed to portray Eichmann as both a madman and a human being. Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac does just as well to portray Mossad agent Peter Malkin as he wrestles with his emotions. His sister was killed in the Holocaust, yet here he was having to feed and care for one of the Holocaust's masterminds until they could transport him to Israel. The two men engaged in a compelling "acting exercise," as Kingsley called it. As their characters, the two play mind games with one another in a darkened room during Eichmann's capture in Argentina, particularly when Malkin tries to get Eichmann to sign the document that will green light his transport to Israel for trial.
Those scenes are the reason Isaac signed on to the film. For the Star Wars actor, he says portraying Malkin as he confronts Eichmann in the safe house room were in some ways harder than his fighting sequences in The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens.
"It was very challenging in a much different way than laser blasters," Isaac told Townhall. "To get into that mentality of how do you not just kill this guy? How do you have the emotional strength to talk to him like a human being?"
Isaac added that his nerves are nowhere near as steely as Malkin's.
"They don't compare at all," Isaac said, laughing. "I don't have that kind of emotional restraint, that's why I'm an actor."
The chemistry between Isaac and Kingsley was felt both by the actors and the crew. Weitz said that although Isaac is improvisatory and Kingsley is more scripted, the differences worked to their advantage.
"I think the interplay worked beautifully," Weitz said. "It reflected the nature of their characters."
Kingsley nailed Eichmann's calculating, precise persona, while Isaac captured Peter's "freewheeling approach" to both the mission and to life.
"There was a great trust between us," Kingsley similarly noted at the post-screening discussion.
When the film was still in its early stages, screenwriter Matthew Orton went to Israel to interview Holocaust survivors and those who actually lived through the Eichmann trial. It was “incredible” getting those first hand accounts, he said. All of his sources described how cathartic it was for them to witness Eichmann facing a jury.
“Every single person said the trial helped them to move on and allowed them to grieve what happened to the Jewish people,” Orton explained.
“Revenge is easy,” actor Lior Raz added. Judging by how “packed” the courtroom was at the time, it meant much more to Israelis to see Eichmann captured and brought to justice.
"Operation Finale" marks the first time the Eichmann capture has made its way to the big screen. Weitz was excited for the opportunity to remind audiences about something so "perennially important."
"It's amazing how quickly people's memories last," Weitz said. "It's good every once in awhile to give people a jort and restore people's knowledge of this."
We asked Kingsley, who also starred in Steven Spielberg's gripping film Schindler's List, if he ever gets a chance to stop and reflect for a few hours in museums like D.C.'s Holocaust memorial museum. "Unfortunately" only on occasions like this movie premiere, he shared. He shared how important it is for audiences to have a visual understanding of the Holocaust, as opposed to just words in a textbook.
"I think perhaps reading textbooks is going to be very difficult because what you read on the page defies belief," Kingsley said. "I think that this building helps us comprehend something you would never understand. It is totally baffling. Sometimes, starting in Shakespeare and even earlier to the Greek plays, if we dramatize something that's visceral...perhaps we'll strike a resonance when we allow to go beyond the words."
Operation Finale is in theaters everywhere August 29.