OPERATION FINALE – DOING THEIR PART TO HELP THE WORLD “NEVER FORGET”

 

The list of top 20 movies that I would want, were I stranded on a desert island, would include My Favorite Year. It is a loose autobiographical event in the life of Mel Brooks, incarnated as the character Benji, when he was working on Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows and Errol Flynn was a guest host. The movie is delightful and comedic and full of extremely memorable lines. One of them is spoken by Alan Swann played by the brilliant Peter O’Toole who, used to declaiming before the relatively small venue of crew and cast members on a movie set, when confronted with the realization that he would be performing on live TV before an audience of hundreds and broadcast out to millions, has a panic attack. Preparing to run out the building, he pronounces to Benji, as though incredulous that they had not understood this before: “I’m not an actor! I’m a movie star!” meaning that he believes himself to be all flash and dazzle and not an artist.

My husband and I have used Swann’s pronouncement to distinguish amongst performers. While there are many movie stars, there are only a handful of actors. Some actors of distinction include hoffman1hoffmanDustin Hoffman, theronCharlize Theron, and streep1streepMeryl Streep, all of whom display an exceptional craft along with an unhesitating commitment, which includes not minding making themselves look ugly, should the roll require it.

SPOILERS BUT ONLY TO THOSE WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE BASICS OF THE HISTORY

kingsleyBen Kingsley falls into this category. Kinglsey is a versatile and mesmerizing actor. From the titular historic Kingsley - ghandiGhandi to the ridiculous kingsley mandarinMandarin in Iron Man 3, from the wise and genlle kingsley schindlerItzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant, in Schindler’s List, to the brutal gangster kingsley sexy beastDon Logan in Sexy Beast, Kingsley displays a repertoire which few could master.

Now, adding to the many suits in Kingsley’s closet, is the portrayal of Adolph Eichmann, the focus of Operation Finale. Kingsley, whose mother’s family was Jewish, brilliantly crafts a chillingly normal portrait of a man who superficially appears like anyone else but on closer examination reveals a hollowness to his soul which he filled with a prosaic ambition to advance a career which only happened to require the systematic murder of millions of innocent people. The morality of his actions did not seem to matter to him one way or the other.

Directed by Chris Weitz, whose family members were Holocaust survivors, (previously known for writing or directing far lighter material such as  Nutty Professor II, Twilight Saga: New Moon, Rogue One, and Antz), Operation Finale is a film about the location, identification, capture, and trial dock2 dockof one of Hitler’s most notorious henchmen, the architect of The Final Solution, the genocidal slaughterer of millions of Jewish families, eichmann and kingsleyAdolph Eichmann. Eichmann is the person about whom the expression “the banality of evil”  Hannah Arendt, reporting on Eichmann’s trial, referred. Arendt recognized these horrific deeds were performed not out of sadism or any evil intent, ditchEichmann by ditchbut by a merely bureaucratic routine functionary going through motions which he thought would advance his career, without any thought or care for the consequences of his actions. To my mind, this is perhaps more horrifying than a serial killer who gets his jollies from inflicting pain and suffering. A serial killer can be temporarily satiated. A Nazi bureaucrat could continue daily for decades without a thought or need to slow.

Forget Regan in The Exorcist or Heath Ledger’s Joker or Michael Myers’ Halloween killer – the frightening matter-of-factness about Kingsley’s Eichmann is as close to an accurate portrayal of the demonic as I hope to ever see.

malkin isaacsOscar Isaac portrays the real life Peter Malkin, a member of the Mossad and survivor of the Nazi genocide, instrumental to this historic Israeli organized clandestine operation. isaacsPresented as historic drama, Operation Finale begins with one of Malkin’s failures and proceeds primarily through his point of view as ephemerally loose threads are found and woven into the net which unearths this man who committed some of the most evil acts in all of mankind’s history – which, given mankind’s propensity for evil acts is saying something.

Also supporting Isaacs’ Malkin are Jewish performers: Melanie Laurent (of both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry) as Hannah, Nick Kroll (raised in a Conservative Jewish family) as Rafi, Michael Aronov as Zvi, Lior Raz  (born in Jerusalem) as Isser, head of the operation, and Ohad Knoller (born Tel Aviv) as Ephraim. Obviously a construct of love and respect for the memories of those slaughtered at the hands of unthinking, unfeeling functionaries, these men and women bear testament to the horrors committed in the name of arrogant totalitarianism, in particular, Nazism.

The film is a re-enactment of the heroic events by the images371MHE58men and women imagesT0P6TZIAwho risked capture, torture and death membert2themselves in Argentina, a country which happily welcomed notorious high ranking Nazis imagesGU3392RLand was still rife with open anti-Semitism.

During the course of Eichmann’s captivity, as the group awaited delayed extraction,  it became necessary for Eichmann to agree in writing to be a willing accomplice to his own extradition. The task evolves from a snatch and grab Mission Impossible adventure to a mental game of cat and mouse. IsaacsAs time begins to run out and the increasingly frustrated and tightly strung agents, some last remaining members of their families, endure proximity to their former tormentor, now prisoner, Malkin takes it upon himself to get inside of Eichmann’s head. We, and they, start to wonder if one side or the other  – Eichmann or the Mossad members – is succumbing to what would later be known as Stockholm Syndrome.

This opportunity to get inside the rationalizations of one of the world’s most notorious people is one of the most valuable aspects of Operation Finale – to remind ourselves that the deeply fundamentally wicked often presents itself as the common and mundane, much like the feral hunters who camouflage themselves in order to get close to their prey. Ted Bundy seemed ordinary, charming and intelligent. Jeffrey Dahmer had a pleasant forgettable face, nothing you’d associate with a serial killer and cannibal. Rarely do those who perform dramatically horrifying actions wear a sign around their neck proclaiming themselves to be masters of evil. Eichmann, as dramatized by Kingsley’s amazing presentation, is no exception.

There is a wise saying by George Santayana in his Reason in Common Sense: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Operation Finale does justice to this moment in history with a film that seeks to help us avoid this perilous omission.

DARKEST HOUR – BRILLIANT AND INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF CHURCHILL ON THE BRINK OF WORLD WAR II

SHORT TAKE:

Gary Oldman is positively brilliant in Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill from the days leading up to his election over the Hitler-mollifier Chamberlain, through his creation and initiation of Operation Dynamo for the miraculous rescue of the British army from the beaches of Dunkirk.

LONG TAKE:

Have you ever gone back stage of a Shakespearean play? It is fascinating to watch how the cast and crew plan and execute a thousand little decisions which serve to bring to life a play with the grandeur and majesty of a brilliant and noble concept.

Similarly, Darkest Hour brings you behind the scenes as Churchill is chosen to replace the cowardly appeaser Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister of England. It follows, often through the eyes of his newly hired transcriptionist, (Lily James – Branagh’s Cinderella) or his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) as he wrestles with the moral and practical prospects of how to face the terrifying Nazi juggernaut plowing through Europe and looming over England.

Everyone around him – both his friends and his allies – urge him to sue for peace. But Churchill, the historian, knows the desperate and fatal folly of this kind of naivete.

And Gary Oldman (Immortal Beloved, Dark Knight, Harry Potter) portrays this man who had the face and stature of a garden gnome, the personality and charisma of a Notre Dame coach, the wit and pragmatic humor of Benjamin Franklin, the instinct for military strategy of General Patton, and the courage of a lion. Not portray – Oldman, for just those two hours and five minutes – IS Churchill in one of the finest performances I have ever witnessed. Oldman brings both the brass and nuanced, the private and public, the overbearingly confident and the heartbreakingly doubtful Churchill before us to contemplate, sympathize with and witness intimately.

Edmund Burke, a member of British Parliament once said: "A representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion."  Churchill had to stand his ground while politically he was ultterly alone against opponents and allies alike who would have had him "negotiate" peace with Hitler, a peace which would have brought it under the heel of the Nazi Regime and possibly allowed Hitler a foothold in the world from which we could be struggling against to this day.

Winston Churchill, statesman, accomplished amateur painter, army officer, historian, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the entirety of World War II, thankfully truly understood history. His writings include a six-volume memoir aptly titled The Second World War and another massive four-volume set of tomes covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain 55 years before the Birth of Christ through to the beginning of the First World War. Much like Churchill, himself, the title of this latter set – A History of the English Speaking Peoples – is both humble in its simplicity and breathtakingly presumptuous in its implied scope.

On the one hand, Churchill was indeed a humble man – frank about his own shortcomings, unafraid to tell the unvarnished truth and as full of plain spoken witty quips as Benjamin Franklin. And yet he dared, his entire life, to prepare to become Prime Minister of one of the greatest countries in the world. And as God places men in the positions they must be in at the time they must be in them no matter their humble beginnings – King David, Joseph, Moses – so He, in His Mighty wisdom, placed Winston Churchill at the helm of the country which stood in the front lines against one of the greatest evils the world has ever known.

King George (Ben Mendelsohn), Churchill and England

boldly confronted the Nazi juggernaut before America could be persuaded to launch into the fray and despite the fact that Europe appeared to have been lost under the heel of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe bombings. Churchill stood at the forefront of England against the tide of so-called leaders like Chamberlain, who would have had England knuckle under to terror and tyranny. Churchill put it succinctly in the film: "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!"

The writer of Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarter (The Theory of Everything) gives us both the big historical picture and the intimate portrait of the man as Churchill crafted speeches, and formed opinions with and around his secretary, his devoted wife, his closest confidants and his King.

And despite the fact we, as the audience, KNOW the outcome of this all, we are masterfully presented with the story in such a way that it is intensely suspenseful – as though we are seeing this all for the first time and, more, that we are participants in this world on the brink of conflagration.

To aid this sense of intimacy and first hand experience, the director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) does some amazing things with the camera work and framing. For example, there is a moment when Churchill is contemplating the disastrous situation for the vast majority of the British army trapped across the Channel at Dunkirk against the approaching German army. The camera focuses on Churchill as a dark door in a shadowed room slowly shuts leaving a small window in the door as a frame around Churchill and the only light left coming from the next room. This highlights not only the isolation Churchill must have felt but brilliantly visualizes the fact that Churchill WAS the lamp that would light England and ultimately Europe and the world out of the darkness that Nazi Germany’s shadow had cast over the civilized world.

There is also a filmatic motiff that plays frequently throughout the film. The focus goes from a close shot of a single individual straight up to present a panorama of the surrounding countryside wherein the individual is lost OR starts from above and closes quickly down upon a single individual. This imagery served to link the plight of each individual player in this drama to the massive worldwide stage drama being historically played out. It also, in reverse, helped remind the audience that behind the grand machinations of famous and encyclopedia worthy heads of state was the suffering and sacrifice by every day ordinary nameless soldiers and citizens. Each individual is important, yes, but often the hard tough decisions MUST be made with a blind eye to that in order to save a greater number of people, a country or even just an ideal. Both of these ideas are presented hand in hand seamlessly like the entwining of the fingers of newlyweds in an intimate moment.

The director conjures the interweaving of the big and small moments which make up history. For example, in one scene we see Churchill striding through his house with entourage in tow strategizing but then immediately coming up short and dismissing everyone in short order to have a charming and adorably intimate conversation with his wife Clemmie when she chides him about the household finances.

We are shown Churchill the man as well as the statesman, just as while we see England the country we also hear from the individual citizens that make up the population as Churchill does a Henry V-type walkabout amongst the people he is trying to lead.

Churchill once said: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Churchill rallied his nation, inspired his countrymen and helped lead the world to victory against Hitler. And he did it by the simple expediency of never giving up – an important and inspiring example for us all.

BTW – I would LOVE to see Darkest Hour shown on a double bill with Dunkirk.

Patton!

SHORT TAKE:

One of, if not THE most, brilliant portrayals of a historic figure (OK Oldman's Churchill makes this a two way tie) ever filmed. General George S. Patton, U.S. military genius, Commander of the 3rd Army, without whom we might easily have been defeated by the Nazis. George C Scott, U.S. acting genius, winner of two Academy Awards and numerous other awards, without whom this movie might easily have been reduced to a forgettable biography.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Everyone, at least every American, eventually, should see this masterpiece. I saw it when I was twelve and despite the language and violence, it facilitated my unadulterated respect, appreciation, and love for our American Military. BUT – because OF the language and scenes of violence and war time brutality, (not nearly as unfiltered as Saving Private Ryan or Lone Survivor though), parents would be well advised to see it themselves to accomodate to their individual child's temperament and sensibilities.

LONG TAKE:

Patton. Some movies are an education unto themselves. No secret messages. No particular underlying themes. Just something to learn from watching. In 1970 I fell in love with both George C. Scott and General George S. Patton at the same time. Both men, geniuses in their given fields of endeavors.  Scott's portrayal of this iconic World War II figure is a stunning example of acting ability. He IS Patton – probably more Patton than Patton himself. This movie inspired an interest in the General that I continued for years. I am proud that General George S. Patton was OUR General. America's hero. Possibly the best American General in our history (possibly equaled by sheer nerve and determination  only by George Washington). Every battle Patton undertook he won. Every plan he pursued was brilliant.

But the man himself, as portrayed in this movie and backed up by the research I did on him in the years after, showed George S. Patton to be a complex man of ridiculously proportioned contradictions. Devoutly religious but verbally profane, he believed "give it to them loud and dirty and they'll remember it". Fought with his men on the front lines but almost courtly in his manner and dress. Reverent of life but in love with death, he wanted to die "by the last bullet fired in the last battle of the last war." Fiercely loyal to his men but intolerant of weakness as potentially lethal to the soldier and those around him Fiercely patrioticbut admiring of Rommel, his counterpart in the German Army tank division. Devoted student of the Christian Bible but believed in reincarnation. As a matter of fact he believed he had been a participant – often a humble one – in battles dating back thousands of years to the Roman military legions. He even wrote a poem about it, "Through a Glass, Darkly", a poem about reincarnation which harkens (in typical inherent contradiction) to a Biblical quote from 1Corinthians 13:12:

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more. (General George S. Patton)

Patton recounts brilliantly the most important slice of life of this larger than life man during his involvement in the latter part of World War Two to its European end. In the process of this recounting, the movie examines not just the man but his strategies, the view the German military intelligence had of Patton, and the horrors of war through the eyes of this man who was both appalled and enamored of it.

There are some people born for (or made by – sometimes hard to tell the difference) the challenge of the time with which they are struggling: Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, William Marshall, Pope John Paul II. Patton was one of those people.

Watching this movie is a history lesson and a biography.

But be warned – the language is ROUGH. No "f" bombs or any language directly relating to inappropriate sexual encounters. But there is a bucket load of damns, hells, and a few son of a b****, s***, and G-d***. There is NO sex in it whatsoever. His interactions with women are limited to PR talks with tittering elderly British tea drinkers. He was as devoutly faithful to his wife as he was to his country. But if the language offends you or you are concerned for your children then either limit this movie to your older kids or catch it when it is shown on TV. While current TV sports FAR worse language, the TV versions of this movie were edited at a time when auditory sensibilities were more attuned to a gentler culture. In other words – they cut out more profanity than they would today.

Patton is a, straight up, history lesson and presented in one of the finest performances by, in my estimation, the premiere American actor of his time. The finest American General during one of the finest hours of American history portrayed by the finest American actor of his generation. Can't get much better than that.

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