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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

Puzzle

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Puzzle

A fine cast can enliven a dull story and dull cast can kill a good one. When outstanding actors land in a sharply original story, the results can be explosive. That happens in Puzzle. Don’t miss it.

The movie opens on Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) as she is swamped by domesticity while cleaning the family house and preparing a delicious birthday dinner. She then summons her husband Louie (David Denman) and their children. But wait, whose birthday is it? It’s hers. That is precisely how director Marc Turtletaub tells us in one quick scene that Agnes does all the work for the family without anyone else lifting a hand.

But here’s what creeps up on us very gently. Agnes is not resentful. It’s her work. Louie loves his family and his home and when he comes home from working in his auto shop, he is thoroughly happy to be with the people he loves. Acceptance by all is the atmosphere.

When Agnes starts assembling the pieces of a birthday present puzzle, we realize we are watching a woman discover that her brain can see the whole in a pile of pieces. We all know instantly that she has found something she must follow. Off she goes to New York City – where she has never been – to a serious puzzle store to begin to learn about her new world.

While there she sees an ad from a gifted puzzle man who needs a partner for a championship. She replies, meets Robert (Irrfan Khan) who is stunned by her ability and invites her to join him. In any other movie we would expect to see any number of plot twists involving resentment, jealousy, affairs and the like, but this isn’t that kind of story. For a long while the two new partners prepare for the championship. This is about two oddly gifted people who grow close on the oddest of paths.

The movie is so full of genuine, unspoken emotion, of kind people oddly matched, of two destined to be together – or are they? In this family full of respect and love for each other, none of the ordinary plot twists unfold. By the time we have learned not to expect the obvious, we are enveloped in the fascination of watching Agnes deal with her genius as she steps into a bigger world.

The team that built this piece of art includes director of photography Chris Norr, writers Oren Moverman and Natalia Smirnoff (original story), director Marc Turtletaub and the cast who understood the quality of their undertaking. Kelly MacDonald should be honored for responding with such subtlety to the whole of the film that she carries. And Irrfan Khan gets an equal bow for his ability and extraordinary restraint as her puzzle partner. The story becomes Agnes’ search for who she really is. Because of the quality of acting, directing, writing, and lighting on all levels, ordinary superlatives do no justice to Puzzle, a movie that is a work of art.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Puzzle
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:43
Rating: R
Date: August 11th, 2018

This review was posted on August 11, 2018, in Drama.