Movie Review ~ Operation Finale


The Facts
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Synopsis: Years after World War II, a team of secret agents are brought together to track down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust.

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn

Director: Chris Weitz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: With the prevalence of movie previews giving away major plot points I tend to stay away from them all together so I can go in as blind as possible. In the case of Operation Finale, I wound up going in double blind because not only did I manage to bypass seeing any trailers for the film but also my last flirtation with a WWII history class was more than decade ago. Now, truth be told, I could have done without the history lesson from a scholar before the screening who spoiled the entire plot and its, ahem, finale, but it was my bad for not remembering such an important moment in history.

This historical drama centers on Israeli intelligence officers plotting to capture former SS Officer Adolf Eichmann who has been found in Buenos Aires in 1960. Among the Mossand agents are Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac, Annihilation), a man haunted by the loss of his sister and her children during the Holocaust. After a failed mission in Austria in 1954, Malkin has been on the outs with his commanding officer who sees him as a shoot first and ask questions later kinda army man. Selected alongside other agents with their own personal stake in the game to travel to Argentina and extract Eichmann, Malkin will have to place his own feelings of vengeance aside and protect the man that was responsible for orchestrating The Final Solution.

Director Chris Weitz (A Better Life) has amassed an interesting career as a writer/director. For me, he’ll always be associated with the raunchy teen comedy American Pie so every time I see his name that’s all I think of. His previous films have run the gamut from entertaining to enervating so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his efforts here. Working with a script from Matthew Orton, Weitz largely stays out of the way of his esteemed cast and let’s them do the heavy lifting. While it’s a well-made picture to be sure, it sometimes wearily creaks along like the Hollywood machine film it is. That’s not a (total) knock on anyone or anything involved with Operation Finale, just an observation that the film knows its place in the box office food chain.

Also serving as a producer, Isaac gets under the skin of Malkin and effectively creates a layered performance that goes far beyond the backstory the screenplay briefly fleshes out. Kept awake at night by painful musings on how his sister may have met her fate, he’s joined this mission not only to capture the man who was tangentially responsible for her death but to exorcise his own personal demons that won’t go away. Isaac and Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) go toe-to-toe in several gripping scenes that feel immediate…like we’re in the room with them. If you told me Operation Finale started as a play I wouldn’t have second guessed you – the scenes between the two men are easily the highlight of the film.

Speaking of Kingsley, it’s interesting to see him play a very different side to the WWII coin after his work in Schindler’s List. While you may need to squint you eyes a bit to buy the 74 year-old actor is supposed to be playing 56 year-old Eichmann, you’ll want to cover them during flashbacks when the filmmakers use iffy CGI to make him appear 20 years younger. Kingsley is a master of the blank faced reaction and it’s used to frustratingly perfect results as Malkin and his crew attempt to get Eichmann to sign a document saying he’s willing to be transported to Israel and stand trial for his crimes.

Weitz populates the film with a strong cast of supporting characters, from Mélanie Laurent (Now You See Me) as Malkin’s former flame employed as a physician to keep Eichmann alive to Nick Kroll (Sausage Party) bringing some appropriate humor to the film as a fellow Mossad agent. The international cast blend seamlessly with their American colleagues and there’s little trouble tracking who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. Special points go to two-time Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat’s (The Shape of Water) nicely pitched score that aids in the intrigue of the spy shenanigans.

Everything about this movie feels unexpected in a good way. The performances are engaging, the direction taut, the writing solid, and the production overall is handsome. It suffers from being ever so slightly too slick (blame Hollywood) and for its rushed ending that seems to skip over some more interesting beats. Still, for a late summer movie this is a nice surprise of a quality film, a attention-grabbing precursor to a busy fall season.

The Silver Bullet ~ By the Sea

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Synopsis: Set in France during the mid-1970s, a former dancer, and her husband travel the country together. They seem to be growing apart, but when they linger in one quiet, seaside town they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as a local bar/café-keeper and a hotel owner.

Release Date: November 13, 2015

Thoughts: I was really looking forward to Angelina Jolie’s big screen adaptation of Unbroken and while the film hit most of the right notes, it failed to hit the most important one in my book…resonance.  I was strangely unmoved by the heroic tale, and I think it was partly Jolie’s fault in how she assembled the film and partly the fault of a screenplay that only told part of the story.

For her third trip behind the camera, Jolie (Maleficent) is taking on directing, writing, and acting duties…and bringing her husband…some bloke named Brad Pitt (World War Z) along with her.  I gotta say, this has a very Eyes Wide Shut feel to it but working on a smaller scale may be the key to unlocking Jolie’s directorial talents and it will intriguing to see it the Jolie-Pitt match-up results in the same chemistry they found a decade ago in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  This first teaser for By the Sea is a nice appetizer that satiates instead of filling you up

Movie Review ~ Enemy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: After Prisoners became one of my favorite films of 2013, I could not have been more on board for this second pairing of star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve.  Actually, Enemy is really their first project together because it was on this film the two began discussing joining forces on the dark kidnapping mystery.  Though I find Prisoners to be the superior of their two collaborations, Gyllenhaal & Villeneuve have cooked up a patience testing mystery that may not be your cup of tea but was fine red wine to me.

Based on Portuguese writer José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double and reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters, Enemy finds Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) in sullen form as a college professor going about the routine of someone that’s settled in for an unfulfilled life.  He goes to work, comes home to his barely furnished apartment, and often spends the night with a woman (Mélanie Laurent) that rarely stays the night.

One day a random colleague makes an even more random movie suggestion and what Gyllenhaal sees on in the movie is someone that looks an awful lot like him…setting into motion a tricky mystery with layers upon layers to uncover and can’t be revealed here.  What I can say is that the movie holds its cards so close to its chest that it will be difficult for some to accept that not everything has (or deserves) an answer/explanation.

Making good use of its Canadian setting (Toronto has never looked so foreboding even in the beige tones and glowing amber palette Villeneuve  and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc employ), Enemy started to feel like a Where’s Waldo book after a while as I sought meaning in almost everything seen on screen.  Doing the same when you see the movie (and you should) would be a mistake because you’ll may miss Gyllenhaal’s rich performance and good supporting work from the intriguing Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini who pops up in a role that sets the movie on its ear in such a way that it would make David Lynch drool.

You’ll hear a lot about Enemy’s ending and it’s admittedly a doozy of a WTF moment that left me impressed with its moxie rather than baffled at its meaning.  At a trim 90 minutes, the film flies by so that when the ending does come it’s a shock in its execution and that the film has run its course.  Worthy of your time and your intelligence, this is one to take you identical twin to.

The Silver Bullet ~ Enemy

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Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Release Date:  March 14, 2014

Thoughts: It was on the set of Enemy that star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve discussed the A-list actor coming on board Villeneuve’s next project: 2013’s highly effective (and high up on my best of the year list) Prisoners.  So even though it was completed first, Enemy is just getting ready for a release in early March.  A much smaller film that the Hollywood studio-backed Prisoners, Enemy suggests another moody puzzle of a film the director seems to have such a knack for.  I wasn’t always the biggest Gyllenhaal fan but he’s taken on some dynamite roles in the last few years (see End of Watch if Prisoners didn’t convince you) and I’m getting a friendly vibe from this first look at Enemy.