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Operation Finale
  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Sony Classical / 58m

Operation Finale tells the story of the Israeli intelligence service’s attempts to capture the vile Adolf Eichmann (one of the architects of the Holocaust) in South America in 1960.  Directed by Chris Weitz and starring Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley, the film has received very mixed reviews, with most agreeing it is a worthy and well-acted attempt to tell the story, if a little stodgy. (The events have been told on film before, including 1996’s The Men Who Captured Eichmann which starred Robert Duvall and Arliss Howard and was scored by Laurence Rosenthal.)

Weitz doesn’t tend to direct many films, but when he does, they’re scored by Alexandre Desplat – this is their fourth consecutive collaboration, going back over a period of eleven years – and they have been very different films and scores, from The Golden Compass (which inspired one of the composer’s richest fantasy scores) through Twilight: New Moon (with its gorgeous piano theme) and then the much more serious A Better Life (with a very low-key score).  This score is, of course, very different again.

Alexandre Desplat

It begins with the incredible main theme, presented in the opening cue.  It’s like an Ennio Morricone political thriller theme from 50 years ago, jagged piano figures mixing with an exotic array of percussion and colourful winds – more about the rhythm and the texture than the melody, it’s extremely memorable and creates just the right mix of intrigue and excitement – and style.  From that terrific piece we move to “Sacrificed Children” and, as you may expect from a piece with such a title, that one’s not quite as uptempo a number – strained strings mixed with (possibly synth?) choir, a funereal atmosphere.

Martial snare drums open “Nazis Rising”, gradually joined by strings and piano – after about a minute of the tension rising to explosive levels, Desplat suddenly pulls back and offers a gentle, tentative piano solo with swirling strings underneath.  It’s very dark; and then the melody in “Malkin’s Memories” is haunting, heartbreaking, the same ensemble (piano and strings) being used in a very different way now.  The main theme returns – albeit it very subtly – in “Setting Up Operations”, another potboiler of a cue.

The tension continues in “Stakeout” – less interesting now, simple little string figures repeating endlessly – it’s a long cue and the album would probably be better off if it had been edited down to the last couple of minutes or so only, in which the composer brings in a yearning melody for the strings which certainly does leave an impression.  Even more of an impression is left by “Death”, which introduces the score’s secondary theme, Jewish hints to the melody which shines above some fairly subtle disharmony under it.

“Killing in the Woods” has that haunting quality again which was heard earlier in the score – it’s so dramatically potent.  There’s a kind of action music in “Race to Airport” – it’s got the same jagged martialism as the main theme – before things go more low-key and much more subdued in “Solingen Blade”.  In “Number 45326” Desplat brings the choir back and follows it with rumbling percussion, some ticking clock-type percussion and, towards the end, some dynamite low-end piano writing.  “The Monster” lives up to its name – the choir is unsettling now, multi-layered, an increasingly-dissonant orchestral presence emerges from it; this is followed by the sombre “Lost Children”.

Suddenly everything springs to life in “Air Control”, a riveting piece which includes both of the score’s themes and is certainly one of its standout cues.  Finally, in “To Israel”, there’s the first real warmth in the whole score – the strings starting to soar away a little bit now.  The album concludes with what are I assume “concert arrangements” of the two main themes – “Operation Finale (orchestral)” does what its name suggests and adds a more conventional wash to the more guttural ensemble that performed the theme for the album’s opening, then “Sorrow” seems to be an extended version of the earlier “Death”.

Operation Finale is for the most part a very serious and often very dark score, as you’d expect, which means that even though it contains all the ingredients of a typically classy Alexandre Desplat score for a serious drama, it’s perhaps not one that people will return to quite as frequently as many of his other scores (and perhaps a few minutes of suspense music could have been chopped from the album to make it a tighter listening experience).  That’s reflected in the rating below – but I should also say that the main title theme is total dynamite (easily one of 2018’s most dynamic and memorable new pieces of film music) and it’s not like the album is unlistenably dark.  I’m sure most Desplat fans – like me – will be impressed.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Brad Geagley (Reply) on Monday 16 September, 2019 at 00:37

    I agree with much of this review – and tend to think of the score as a companion piece to “The Sisters Brothers” and a close cousin to “Zero Dark Thirty.” I very much admire Alexandre Desplat, and have for many years, wishing that he could score one of my books. (But it’s enough that I listen to him while I write.) I’m glad you like him, too – and you’re absolutely right, the title music IS one of the most dynamic and riveting pieces of the year. VERY surprising!