Operation Finale Poster

Embarking on one of the most daring covert operations in modern history can be an equally gratifying and terrifying task for everyone involved. The new war film, ‘Operation Finale,’ vividly captures the ingenious and brilliantly executed mission to capture one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. The biopic was emotionally and intensely brought to the screen by its dedicated cast and crew, including up-and-coming British screenwriter, Matthew Orton. The historical drama, which was directed by versatile helmer Chris Weitz, was released in theaters today by MGM.

Set in 1969, ‘Operation Finale’ follows Israeli intelligence officials who receive a tip that Nazis are hiding in Argentina. They’re notified by Lothar Hermann (Peter Strauss), a half-Jewish German whose daughter, Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), has unwittingly begun dating Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn), whose father, Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), was a Nazi leader in World War II. Now living under the alias of Ricardo Klement, Eichmann works at an auto factory and is admired by others in his Buenos Aires suburb, including Argentines and escaped Germans.

Some Israeli leaders think it’s a waste of time to divert intelligence resources from present-tense dangers to find a criminal who committed his illegal offenses over a decade-and-a-half ago, and is now living on another continent. But Mossad operative Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll) argues that bringing a war criminal like Eichmann to trial in Israel would be beneficial. So Eitan is put in charge of the team that would knowingly violate Argentina’s sovereignty in order to secure a criminal like Eichmann, who the Israeli officials doubted the South American nation would willingly extradite to the Middle Eastern country.

Eitan recruits several Mossad agents, including Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac), as well as Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent), a physician whose job is to sedate Eichmann. After meticulous planning, Malkin physically grabs Eichmann off the road near his house, and he and his fellow agents brings the war criminal to their safe house. While the rest of the team is inclined to harshly question Eichmann, Malkin convinces himself to overcome his disgust over their detainee’s crimes long enough to make him feel he is being heard by his captors. As the Mossand agents and the former SS officer and Nazi head of transport learn more about each other, they all begin to question what really drives a person’s emotions and actions, and how they all fit into each other’s worlds.

Orton generously took the time recently to talk about writing the script for ‘Operation Finale’ during an exclusive interview at New York City’s Essex House Hotel. Among other things, the writer discussed how he was interested in bringing Malkin and Eichmann’s stories to the big screen after doing some research into the Holocaust, as he felt their actions, lives and pursuit of justice and truth would be thought-provoking for all types of audiences. He also expressed his appreciation over being able to watch Weitz and the cast approach directing and acting, as it allowed him to see the professional and distinct ways they approached their crafts.

The conversation began with Orton explaining what inspired him to write the script for ‘Operation Finale.’ The scribe “first came across Eichmann in university, when I wrote a paper on the Holocaust, and whether it was unparalleled or unprecedented. Then awhile later, I was having a chat with a friend about the story, and the idea came up again. I started to think that there could be something quite interesting here,” he shared.

“It was when I then read Peter Malkin’s biography that I realized that there really was a cool opportunity to tell an exciting and thrilling story,” Orton divulged. “I hoped that the story would also be thought-provoking, in the exploration of the pursuit of justice and truth. It also shows the importance of holding people accountable for the actual truth, instead of different versions of it.”

Whenever he writes anything, the scribe “finds the emotional through-line first, including the elements of the characters’ stories that should be explored. I’ll then begin researching around that, and that leads to the story for the film,” Orton further disclosed. “For this movie, I did research for about four months, and then wrote for about two months, and then MGM bought the script.”

Further speaking of his research process, the writer added that he “loves diving into a multitude of sources. I looked into a lot of secondary history on the story about Eichmann, as well as what Israel was like and going through at that point. (The 2013 book,) ‘My Promised Land’ by Ari Shavi was a huge inspiration, as was (Amos Oz’s 2005 book,) ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness.’ Uki Goni’s (2003 book,) ‘The Real Odessa’ gave a great overview of Argentina and its malevolent forces. So I began to weave together a story from the source material I read, so that I could weave together a realistic narrative.”

Orton then pointed out that all of the sources that he looked into during his research differ, so ‘Operational Finale’s story isn’t based on just one book. “They all have different takes on how and why things went down. So it was interesting to piece together the arc of what happened. Since we were trying to do so dramatically, in the dramatic structure of a film, we weren’t bound by one particular take, so it was liberating to be able to move between them,” the scribe divulged.

One intriguing aspect in the story is that Malkin empathizes with Eichmann over their family relationships while they were waiting to board the plane to Israel. The writer then described what the process of creating the bond between the protagonist and antagonist was like during his time working on the screenplay. “That detail tries to let the audience off the hook for not always thinking of Eichmann as a monster. A lot of the monsters in the world are similar to him, in the fact that they have families, even though they have some twisted ethical code. But they also have fears and doubts. So it’s important for us to realize, and identify with, that,” he noted.

Malkin, meanwhile, is also the epitome of the survivors who struggled with post-traumatic stress after the war. But his ultimate story “is about being able to let go of the past, and embrace the future,” Orton also emphasized. “That’s also the same for Israel, so we wanted to compare those two stories…I also think it’s important that we show that Malkin himself was also a bit of a manipulator, like Eichmann. That’s shown when he convinces Hanna to join the mission. So that helped build up the tension between these two manipulators when they come head-to-head. It was a great joy to work with Oscar on that aspect of his portrayal of Malkin…Watching him on-screen was really something.”

The scribe then delved into his experience of visiting ‘Operation Finale’s set in Argentina, and described his time there as being “amazing. Chris sweetly said very early on that ‘I think you’re going to direct movies one day. So you should just come learn and be a part of this production.’ So he was very hands on in showing me how it all worked.” He admitted that being on the set “was a very educational, but also challenging, experience. But I can’t wait to do it again!”

The writer added that “The actors were also very eager to sit down and talk about certain lines, and finding the most real versions of those moments. All of the actors were very clear on what they wanted to do and get across. So they were able to evolve the story without compromising it.”

Not only did the scribe enjoy collaborating with the actors on their lines and developing their characters’ arcs, he also cherished the experience of seeing the action-driven scenes being created on the set. “Obviously, we wanted to make the film as dramatically exciting and engaging as possible. Most of the action really just wrote itself. The tension and excitement also comes more from the psychological warfare that arises from the thrill of capturing this guy, and then the pressure that surfaces in the safe house, especially between two adversaries like Malkin and Eichmann. I think that’s much more exciting than guns and explosions.”

As audiences nationwide begin to see the war drama, Orton hopes “people start to think about what evil really looks like, who has the propensity for evil and where it comes from. I hope they’ll also think about the things we explored, and start asking questions about the truth. I think the best movies not only entertain you, but also leave you wanting to learn more…We have to keep talking about this story, so we can make sure that it never happens again.”

Now that ‘Operation Finale’ is playing in theaters, the writer will be focusing on his next projects, including writing and showrunning the second season of the acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning spy television series, ‘The Night Manager.’ He admitted that working on the drama has “been a challenging experience, but I love showrunning. Managing these three incredibly talented writers who I’m working with is gratifying; they’re all amazing, and are constantly teaching me how to be a better writer. So it’s nice to work with people who challenge you.”

But Orton admitted that working on ‘The Night Manager’ is different than penning the screenplays for the films he has worked on, including ‘Operation Finale,’ since he essentially creates the movies’ stories on his own. “I feel so connected to, and engaged with, the films’ scripts. I do feel that way about ‘The Night Manager,’ too, but it’s a different beast. There are a lot of people who want a lot of different things, but that’s the way it is with TV. So you find yourself, and the project, being tugged in different directions, in a way that I didn’t experience with this movie. MGM is such a fantastic collaborator, and let Chris and me get on with it,” he shared.

“So I can’t wait to also work on a TV show for which I come up with the idea for it myself. I’m enjoying my current experience (with ‘The Night Manager’), but I can’t wait to work on a series that I created,” the scribe concluded.

Photo ofMatthew Orton
Matthew Orton
Job Title
Writer of the historical war biopic, 'Operation Finale'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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