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Operation Finale

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Operation Finale

Operation Finale raises tough questions about the filming of genuine tragedies. This would be a fine movie if it were fiction, but the Holocaust is a subject that doesn’t lend itself to fiction. To fictionalize the gassing of six million men, women, and children is to tinker with history and it just doesn’t work. What does work is the production of repeated documentaries that keep the tragedy alive throughout the present and future as a lesson never to be forgotten.

Throughout the movie, actual pictures are used sparingly, but when one is shown, it hits like a rock and makes the fictional screen shots feel almost silly. And yet that’s not a fair thing to say because the movie is a good one and the cast works hard and well. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Director Chris Weitz has filmed Matthew Orton’s script as the story of the disappearance, capture, and hanging of Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann managed to disappear successfully while other German war criminals were caught and brought to trial. He managed to live for sixteen years in anonymity in Argentina until he was identified and caught by Israeli Mossad agents who disguised him and snuck him past the protective Argentinians. His 1961 trial in Israel became the public focus of its time. He was tried and hung for directing the gassing of six million people.

Actor Oscar Isaac creates Mossad agent Peter Malkin who becomes the leader of the group that flies to Argentina after Malkin finds proof of Eichmann’s existence in Buenos Aries. Melanie Laurent is effectively reserved in a key role. Ben Kingsley’s creation of Eichmann is fascinating, but there comes the problem. As we watch his fine performance the questions begin: Was that what Eichmann was like? Were both these performances accurate? The whole cast is excellent. What’s wrong is the fictionalizing of one of the most hideous happenings in history.

The problem in this movie is that every now and then the filmmakers inject a twist to spark our interest and it feels as if someone is slamming on the brakes. Anything upbeat in this story, we all know, is tampering with reality. It just doesn’t work. Even though Ben Kingsley creates a fine monster, it isn’t Adolf Eichmann. After seeing this movie, won’t we always think of the real characters as the actors who portrayed them? We need to remember them as they were.

Every year that passes produces more sophisticated tools for research and filming of historic events. No event is more demanding of non-fiction treatment than the deliberate gassing of six million human beings. Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel was broadcast widely on television as it then existed. We stared deeply at a man trying to cover his own evil by being bland and blaming others. We need filmmakers with their new tools to explore that tragedy by using all the available letters, chronicles, films, photographs, and diaries. That is the reality the world needs to remember.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Operation Finale
Word Count: 498
Running Time: 2:06
Rating: PG-13
Date: September 2, 2018

BlackKKlansman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

BlackKKlansman

In a strong, undeniable way, director Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman is his accusation that few of us understand the depth of racial segregation as it exists today. This isn’t a story set in the distant past. It begins in the 1970s, a time when much of the populace assumed slavery and segregation were over. Spike Lee’s movie is a sharp reminder that what we thought had been accomplished had simply gone underground with progress confined to liberal areas in the Northeast and far West. This movie is an attack on our ignorance. Slavery may be over; segregation isn’t.

Adam Driver plays Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop who has to hide his own feelings as he assumes the identity of a right-wing bully in order to enter the Klan. He must listen to fellow bullies spout their certainties – “I’m a white non-Jewish American citizen.” And there Flip stands, wearing the hood of the Klan. He endures all the indignities of pretending he is a segregationist bully while his new partner, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) can only work from the office because he is black. He delivers Flip’s white telephone voice in their joint efforts to expose the Klan.

Laura Harrier plays Patrice Demas, a firm opponent of the segregationists who, rather than discuss the problems with her new friend Flip, lectures him from her righteous position.

The story is Spike Lee’s way of delivering the message that while many of us believe that changing laws has changed behavior, the reality life for a black person walking down a street is still frightening. Hands out of pockets, silence, no reactions, no sudden moves.

As Flip and Ron become the team that delivers both the nuance and the ugliness of this story, it would be hard not to sink into some level of fear, guilt, and confusion, living as we do in a world where so much is still unfair. Their acting is so good that their story hits us with the sharpest edges of accusation. Topher Grace creates the Klan’s Grand Wizard with calm born of his total commitment to the consuming hatred that has become his core.

BlackKKlansman is both serious and provocative. It comes from Spike Lee as a command to reexamine our own beliefs and actions. When, near the end, he jumps into present day politics, the movie acquires even greater force. There is no question that the depth of feeling in the audience at the close is due to the uncanny way Lee forces us to sink into this continuing problem of our own creation. He doesn’t allow us for a second to retreat to believing the job had been done with the passage of anti-segregation laws. His power comes from skillful use of a fine group of actors to examine the problems as they exist right now. The depth of feeling as the theater empties is due to Spike Lee’s uncanny skill at pulling everyone deeply into this continuing American problem of our own creation.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: BlackKKlansman
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:15
Rating: R
Date: August 19, 2018