Chris Weitz's Operation Finale, concerning a Mossad team's 1960 hunt for Adolf Eichmann, is a sort of Argo Goes to Munich, blending heist movie jollies with some moral inquiry into justice, revenge, torture and execution. The mix is sometimes unpalatable: The gang breezily plots its big score, and dances to boogie-woogie piano, but David Ben-Gurion himself (played by Simon Russell Beale) establishes the stakes thusly: "For the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner." It's almost held together by the face of Oscar Isaac, who plays Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent in charge of the mission to snatch the old murderer and sneak him to Israel for trial without the Argentine government catching on. Pulsing just inches above the movie-star smile is that knot of nerves between Isaac's eyes, that pinch of worry that sets Isaac apart, even in a leading-man role.
In Operation Finale's best scenes, Weitz dramatizes the tension that's always there in Isaac's face, emphasizing the difference between the breezy caper films we might wish we could live in and the brutal messiness of actual life. We see Isaac's Malkin painstakingly rehearse the moves he'll use to seize and subdue his villain; his pained expressions ultimately prove more engaging and revealing than Matthew Orton's script or much of Weitz's staging.
Toward the end, Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) suddenly is invested in Malkin's inner life the same way that a supervillain tends to be caught up in his opposing hero's, monologuing about his mad brilliance. Rather than the cagey, caged mastermind who later would play dumb at trial, this Eichmann is just another movie bad guy -- and Operation Finale is just another movie.