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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

Chappaquiddick

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Chappaquiddick

Your interest in Chappaquiddick – or lack thereof – is likely to be determined by your age and your politics. The younger you are, the less likely you are to be emotionally involved. Director John Curran and writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan have made a fine film of a terrible story. They chose wisely to deal with things that were known and factual. No theories here.

Of the four sons of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, Joe Jr. was killed in Europe during WWII. John F. Kennedy became president in 1960 and brought a new generation into the political world. He died by a bullet in Dallas in 1962. His brother Robert was shot dead while running for President. Their supporters, I among them, reeled when Chappaquiddick unfolded.

Ted, the youngest brother, was elected to the senate and plunged into controversy when he drove a car off a narrow bridge in Chappaquiddick, MA that caused the drowning death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), a strong, bright campaign worker in the Kennedy organization. Now we have a movie that offers the first filmed interpretation of that accident. Whatever your political persuasion, you will see a weak man who never measured up to that major crisis. He left the scene while Mary Jo Kopechne struggled for breath as she drowned in the car whose doors she couldn’t open.

Director John Curran has done a fine job with a tough subject. He doesn’t pretend to know how Kennedy escaped from the car and left the scene while Kopechne drowned inside so he concentrates on the known facts. Kennedy escaped, left the scene, and waited far too long to report the accident while trying to figure out how to make it all go away.

It is enough to say that because of his family’s fame, he fell immediately into the public spotlight while one loyal family friend, Joe Gargan (an excellent Ed Helms), tried unsuccessfully to convince him to do the right things. Bruce Dern stuns as patriarch Joseph Kennedy stricken speechless by a stroke who still tries to control his son. The screen fills with an ugly bunch of former loyalists who want to take Kennedy’s place as a presidential candidate.

At the center of it all, actor Jason Clark creates Kennedy in a remarkable creation of a man without a moral center caught in a crisis of his own making. In a powerful, understated performance, Clark conveys the center rot of a spoiled man whose dark, selfish instincts and ambitions governed his own behavior after the accident.

The supporting cast does a fine job of creating a mob of former loyalists who suddenly tried to seize the opening Kennedy had planned to use to run for president. Many in the audience were joined in disgust. The man who followed his three brothers into politics failed as a human being when he drove off a bridge, left his friend in the car – and tried to erase it.

Film Reviewer: Joan Ellis
Film Title : Chappaquiddick
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 1:41
Rating: PG-13
Date: 8 March 2018