• Matt Craig

Ben Kingsley Puts On an Acting Masterclass in 'Operation Finale'




The true story of a dangerous capture...of the architect of Hitler's final solution...by Jewish Mossad agents? Yep, it was only a matter of time before this film was made, and could take its rightful place among the subgenre of lovingly-named "Revenge of the Jews" movies. It's a prestigious group! Now I'm not sure if a $24 million production budget wasn't enough money to hire a decent editor, or if they didn't have enough shooting days, but through the first 45 minutes of Operation Finale I was convinced I was watching a terrible movie. Well, maybe not a terrible movie so much as an incomplete one. It felt like the rough cut of a project in progress, complete with shots that were literally out of focus, edits that were blatantly too early or too late, and scenes that would just...end. There are characters in this movie, like actual important characters, who are never introduced to us. They just sort of show up, start talking to the handful of actors we recognize (Oscar Isaac, Nick Kroll, Mélanie Laurent) and we're left to guess who they might be. In retrospect, I probably would've done the same thing. Why waste time shooting or editing anything that takes place before SIR Ben Kingsley enters the picture? Kingsley is simply phenomenal. The movie is careful not to glorify or sympathize with his Adolf Eichmann, yet somehow he is able to fill the character with depth and humanity alongside his ominousness. It's charisma, but not in the same way we talk about charisma in, say, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. A more accurate word is probably gravitas. Kingsley has real gravitas, the type of presence that makes you lean forward and put down your popcorn and hang on every word, each time he's on screen. All this despite the fact that 90 percent of his screen time comes in a tiny nondescript room where he's being held prisoner. Hell, 50 percent of that time he's wearing a blindfold, and 20 percent of that he's tied to a bed! Still, I would've watched two straight hours of Kingsley and Isaac in that room together. The moments are electric, and their chemistry saves the movie. It had shades of Silence of the Lambs, with Kingsley playing the evil genius who somehow has the advantage in every situation despite his imprisonment. It's the most captivating performance of 2018. Like I swear to you there's a moment in this movie that was probably a throwaway in the script, it's the tiniest moment where Kingsley's Eichmann puffs a cigarette for the first time since being captured, but when he does it you can literally feel it through your whole body. It's wild. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life and in that moment I somehow totally understood why people do it. In short, Ben Kingsley deserves the 2018 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. (fwiw he did win one in 1983 for Ghandi) To be clear, the Academy Awards have never in their 90-year history been merit-based. The movies and actors that win don't do so because they were the best that year. It's always been about narrative. And these days, social justice is the name of the game. It's a trend that likely benefits Operation Finale overall, as its Important Message likely masks some filmmaking flaws, but it almost certainly eliminates Kinglsey from Oscars consideration. Can you imagine the uproar if they gave a statue to a Nazi general? In this political climate? Obviously, in reality the award would be going to an upstanding English actor, but consider this. 1) Last year, the winner in the supporting category was Sam Rockwell, who caught plenty of blowback for portraying a racist police officer, 2) we live in a post-Charlottesville world now, and 3) his competition will be (likely) actors of color from actively anti-Nazi movies like BlacKkKlansman or If Beale Street Could Talk. Here's the thing. Despicable villains have provided the juiciest and most interesting roles in movies throughout history. Portraying a monster is in many ways much harder and more rewarding than playing a hero. And I've never been sure that millionaires who make movies for a living should be the ones tasked with making the world a better place anyways. So reward this movie in the one place it deserves it. Not the script, definitely not the editing. Just give Ben Kingsley an Oscar.

Schindler's List (1993)

Come on, you know I had to do it. It's not the most creative choice. But if we're talking about Adolf Eichmann and the final solution and concentration camps and the atrocities of the holocaust, then we have to reference Steven Spielberg's epic. I'd wager that almost every single one of you have heard of this movie, and yet very few have actually seen it. That could be because it's three hours and 15 minutes long. It could be because you don't want to go out and buy the three boxes of tissues beforehand you'd need to get through it. But seriously, this is one of those required movies for your cultural competency. Watch it. I shouldn't even have to sell you on the filmmaking, considering we're talking about Spielberg, with Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes and...oh...is that Ben Kingsley again?

Defiance (2008)

Netflix

Surely they just added this movie to the platform, right? Otherwise it would've definitely been on my top 20 list from a few weeks ago. In terms of WW2-adjacent films, this could be my favorite. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell turn in fantastic performances as Jewish brothers who escape into the Belarussian forests to avoid Nazi control and set up a Robin Hood-esque village to protect 1,000 non-fighting Jewish refugees. It's a powerful true story that mixes action and suspense with real emotion and high stakes, all under the direction of Edward Zwick, a man who knows a thing or two about directing excellent war movies (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Glory). When movies this good cycle through your streaming platform, you have to take advantage before they're gone!


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