Operation Finale (2018), written by Matthew Orton, centers around the daring mission to capture Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann by Mossad. Let’s analyze the script.
- Draft Read: 20.10.15
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 130
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Israel, Argentina
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Thriller, Biopic
- Theme(s): Closure, Love, War, Terror, Justice
- Protagonist Change: Significant
Where to start… How about concept? Adolf Eichmann helped organize the Holocaust. By all accounts, he was one of the worst people in human history. But is he well-known? I would say not so much. Certainly not to the younger generation. And that means this screenplay should have (and does) cater to an older audience. So what’s the main theme in this script? Not justice or revenge… but closure. Closure so that people can move on from the horrors of yesteryear.
But a story that focuses on making peace with the past is tricky to pull off. One could make the argument that was a major theme for both Red and Andy in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), On the Waterfront (1954) and Gladiator (2000). In fact, man with a problem is a commonly cited unofficial screenplay genre and can definitely work.
In Operation Finale, Peter, a Mossad agent, lost his sister and her family in WWII. His agency is to avenge their deaths. Here’s where the problems begin: Operation Finale is shown as a Thriller, which means it needs to be intense. By all accounts, the capture of Eichmann was a big gamble, but not necessarily edge-of-your seat intense. So the writer had to add many competing factions (explained below) to draw up the urgency and stakes of the operation. That also means the scene that one expects to be the pivotal scene, the abduction of Eichmann, happens on Page 60, 46% of the way through the script. Because at the end of the day, while the operation was a success, the actual abduction was not overly dramatic and therefore could not serve as the film’s climax.
Broadly speaking, it’s a strong albeit formulaic script that uses every possible story technique to draw up the stakes. It’s worth a read and made for a great film, even if it wasn’t a box office hit.
It’s a tight script. There aren’t many wasted lines. It’s also obvious the characters are well-developed, even if their personalities create odd inter-dynamics. One can tell the writer did a good amount of research into the operation.
The idea of focusing the script on closure, likewise, certainly deepened the emotional impact.
The inclusion of the Wannsee Conference in January, 1942, did a great job to show us how evil Eichmann was.
How about the climax: The team rushes Eichmann on the plane as the rebels (Tacuara) close in. The plane takes off just in time. Sound like another movie? You bet, Argo (2012). And this script is not as suspenseful for a few reasons. First, the military and air traffic controllers are on the Israelis side, thereby making the opponent (rebels with minor police support) rather weak. Second, Argo draws out the final takeoff, yet in this script, it happens pretty quick. A note: The final film changes the script. In the film, if I recall correctly, a couple of Israeli agents don’t make it on the plane, instead choosing to let it take off before the rebels can arrive. The problem? The Israelis left behind should be at risk from the rebels, but instead unceremoniously escape to another bordering country.
During pivotal scenes, Malkin essentially hallucinates/dreams. It’s not a real hallucination, more so a intercut (there’s probably a better term) with Malkin’s thoughts. For example, on Page 63, when abducting Eichmann, Malkin sees the image of his dead sister. It’s intense, but obviously takes us out of the current scene, thereby squashing the suspense.
Stakes. Stakes. Stakes. How can you make a story seem like the whole world relies upon it’s results: raise the stakes. Here’s one, of many, examples of how this is done (Page 45):
If you’re caught, Israel will deny all knowledge of your existence. If you fail, Eichmann escapes justice. Leads a long life. Maybe he goes on to do it all again. So don’t fail. For Israel. OK?
A couple of issues. First, this is straight exposition and dumbs down what Malkin, an experienced spy, should already know. Second, the stakes are raised by the threat of Eichmann doing it all again, which seems awfully unrealistic considering Eichmann works as a laborer at a Mercedes-Benz factory in Argentina.
And that, in a larger sense, is where this script is problematic. The stakes are raised in every possible way. Whether it’s Eichmann on the verge of fleeing again (the plane tickets are waiting for him!), the Eichmann’s listing their house for sale, leading a new Aryan army in a bordering country, Israel about to pull the rug out from under the extraction team, etc. the stakes feel over the top.
I’ve mentioned it above, but it’s worth noting again: The antagonists are weak! The enemy essentially boils down to Eichmann’s teenage son, Klaus, and a rogue Argentinian cop, Almiron. Except Klaus would rather spend his time chasing women and the cop has very weak support from his base of officers.
The plot is interesting in that the actual capture of Eichmann happens a little before the halfway point, thereby focusing the second half on keeping him hidden until they can get him out of the country. Much of the story explores the inter-dynamics between the agents.
Malkin is the lead and a great flawed protagonist. Eichmann too is a near-perfect representation of evil. It’s a bit tricky to analyze him, because there are a number of scenes when Eichmann discusses his past actions, which is ways humanize him. But there aren’t enough that I truly understand his personal philosophy, which isn’t necessary but if he is going to have such a prominent part (as opposed to just being a prisoner), then I would have expected more. Hanna is a good support, even if she appears one-dimensional. Aharoni is problematic as he essentially is a roadblock for Malkin, yet never really seems threatening as Malkin is given unlimited second chances.
Dialogue & Pacing
No notes on dialogue.
The story moves along at a pretty good clip. There aren’t any dull moments.
One could assume the bulk of the emotional impact from this film would come from the fact that Eichmann was brought to justice. But in the final courtroom scene and cards, that’s not where the script takes us. Instead, we focus on Malkin’s relationships with others, and we learn that he eventually starts a family.
Does that take away or add to the emotional impact? Well, that would heavily depend on if you can relate to the protagonist. In ways, I think it would have been better to end the screenplay like Schindler’s List (1993), which would have included Eichmann’s hanging and sharing memories from those killed in (or survived) the Holocaust. But, this is a script about closing and moving on, so the current ending does make more logical sense. With that said, I’m just not sure the script is as impactful as it could have been.
Best Part of The Script
Following the above, I think the ending is worth a read. Start on Page 125.
Likewise, the actual abduction of Eichmann is thrilling, even though it involves an odd intercut (explained above). Start on Page 60.