It was one of the successful bloodless missions performed by Israel’s Mossad in history.
Operation Finale was a true well-known mission performed by a team of top secret Israeli agents to track down Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who masterminded the transportation of Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. After uncovering his whereabouts in Argentina, they managed to kidnap and to sneak him out of the country under the radar of local authorities to place in him in one of the first televised war criminal court events.
The film stars Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Lior Raz and Nick Kroll. The screenplay is written by Matthew Orton and directed by Chris Weitz.
LRM Online had an exclusive phone interview with director Chris Weitz for Operation Finale. He discussed about his personal connection to the film and his outlook of Adolf Eichmann. He also talked about the well-rounded cast that brought the seriousness and some humor towards this suspenseful thriller.
Operation Finale is in theaters today.
Read our interview transcript below.
LRM: Why were you initially attracted to something like Operation Finale?
Chris Weitz: I’ve kind of grown up thinking about this period in history a lot. My dad was a veteran. He was also a German-Jewish refugee. He had served in the army in the OSS, which was the precursor of the CIA. His specialty was intelligence. He ended up writing books about a prominent Nazi figures that I helped him with. Growing up as a kid, this was the period of history that I was most interested in.
LRM: Were you familiar with Operation Finale before or were you first introduced it with this script?
Chris Weitz: I had a few received notions about that. I knew that [Adolph] Eichmann had been kidnapped. I knew that there was a trial in Jerusalem. I knew the phrase “Banality of Evil,” but beyond that–I didn’t know very much about it. It’s a pretty extraordinary a mission for a number of reasons. Not only that they managed to do it without gunplay or without violence, but that they managed to keep him in hiding for ten days before taking him out of the country. It’s the kind of extraordinary a dialogue that went on between Peter Malkin and Adolph Eichmann in the meanwhile.
LRM: Did you personally had to do some extra research for yourself in regards to this movie?
Chris Weitz: Well, I did some. There are all kinds of great resources available from the Holocaust Memorial Museum, including all of the transcripts of Eichmann’s trial. There are records of Eichmann’s interrogation in Jerusalem. There were also the very strange recordings that he made, a kind of vanity recordings while he was in Argentina. In which, they were eventually printed in Life Magazine. There’s a lot of information available. We also had Avner Abraham, an ex-Mossad agent, who was the guy who put together the traveling exhibition of operations in Norway on set with us. Uh, so we brought to bear a lot of research on the movie.
LRM: What was the most surprising thing that you uncovered or discovered for yourself?
Chris Weitz: For myself, I think the most surprising thing to me was how willing and able a Eichmann was to pursue this from this path, a career in mass murder. You would think from the received notion from Banality of Evil, but he was just kind of a guy who followed his orders. In fact, he was quite ambitious but manipulative. He was a careerist who took every opportunity to his wagon to the star of Hitler and the Nazi movement. This notion of him as just a middle manager is kind of inaccurate.
LRM: For a film that doesn’t have a lot of gun violence and too much action–did this proved to be more challenging for yourself?
Chris Weitz: Guns are an easy place to go in a suspense thriller. I’m not very interested in gun play. I think there are too many of them in American society and in American entertainment. One of the fascinating things for me about this was the nonlethal means by which Mossad went about in performing this capture. I’m really interested in the psychological violence that’s transpired during the course of the mission. That kind of endurance rather than the physical endurance that you see in so many thrillers.
LRM: I do have to remark that you did a wonderful job on the tension build up. It actually kept me on the edge of my seat.
Chris Weitz: Oh, thank you. That’s great. Thanks a lot.
LRM: [Laughs] You’re welcome. There is one thing that I actually noticed is because, this movie tends to be based on a very serious subject. You managed to input humor into the film for itself.
Chris Weitz: Thank you.
LRM: Not to mention you cast it, Nick Kroll and Oscar Isaac, who tends to use humor in his acting. Tell me about the approach of putting humor into a serious subject like Operation Finale here.
Chris Weitz: Well, I think it’s a crucial part of life. I think that if you’re only portraying things in terms of the drama, then you’re missing out on an entire side of human existence. I also think it’s kind of second nature to people working in trades like this that they process things through gallows humor. It was also sort of necessary for Oscar’s character who is basically in a form of a long-term denial. He fights against is the trauma of his memories being of devil may care.
LRM: What about casting a Nick Kroll for the part? He is very well known for his comedic acts as some people may actually take a double take of his presence in the film.
Chris Weitz: I do think he’s very funny, but it wasn’t what I cast him for. Just as I feel comedy’s very important to portraying drama. I think that comic actors are often much more ready to play a dramatic roles rather than dramatic actors to play comic roles. I feel it gives a great deal of breadth and pathos to his performance.
LRM: Could you talk about that Ben Kingsley? Of course, we have to talk about him. He is such a great actor himself.
Chris Weitz: Ben and I were both intent that Adolph Eichmann be portrayed as a human being. Not in order to garner people’s sympathy for him, but to indicate that this kind of crime is committed not just by demagogues and sociopaths. To say this, unfortunately, by ordinary people. who ascribe to these dangerous toxic points of view. He is one of the greatest living actors. He is the actor who is probably thought more deeply and extensively about this period than anybody. Not only do you get his extraordinary technical skill, but also his deep commitments to getting the story out.
LRM: Could you talk about the production of creating a period piece? Where was all the production I located at?
Chris Weitz: We shot in Buenos Aires and Bari Loche. We’re often shooting in the places where the event actually took place. I thought it was better for the movie that we have a crew that was a blend of American and international and local talents. I felt that we were more likely to get details right. We were able to call upon props and costumes from the period. Not only from the period, but from the place where we are shooting. That was extremely important I think to the production.
LRM: So what was proven to be the greatest challenge for you as a director?
Chris Weitz: I think the greatest challenge was balancing the demands of a genre movie, which is to say it’s a suspense thriller and making sure that we were dealing seriously with all of the issues that the subject brings up. How to make an entertainment–that’s our first job. Aslo had to do an honor of the participants and to the victims of the Holocaust.
LRM: Excellent. I’m going to start wrapping things up–could you talk about some of your future projects? Particularly Pinocchio?
Chris Weitz: I’m writing the script for Disney and for Paul King, director of Paddington, Paddington 2 and The Mighty Boosh. It’s going shoot in England and Italy starting next year. We’re still in the very early stages of digital developments and developing the script, so there’s no casting to talk about. But, I’m really excited about it.
LRM: Excellent. One last question. I do know you’ve been on the script side and you also been behind the camera as a director. Which side do you prefer the most for you? You’ve done everything.
Chris Weitz: For me, it’s easier to write because I can do it anywhere. It’s much more of a stress on my family life to pick up my family and move it to another place, which is what studio filmmaking requires these days. So little is done in Los Angeles unfortunately. I’m going to have to say that writing is the better gig.
LRM: [Laughs] Terrific. Hey, I really enjoyed this conversation. I wish you could make a sequel to Rogue One and The Golden Compass, but that’s not going to happen.
Chris Weitz: [Chuckles] Thank you very much.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive