REVIEW: “Five Feet Apart”

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While some people push back on these things (and I understand why), movie history has shown there is an audience for teen illness flicks. I find it hard to be dismissive of them. They can serve to enlighten people as well as speak to those who have experienced the diseases or know someone who has. At the same time there is a thin line between informing and exploiting.

“Five Feet Apart” walks that thin line at times leaning precariously towards the exploitative. But thankfully the film never falls over to that side mainly due to a deeply serious approach to cystic fibrosis as well as an authentic and fiercely committed performance from Haley Lu Richardson.

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Richardson plays Stella who is back in the hospital for another series of treatments. She’s sprightly OCD and admits to having control issues, but she remains positive sometimes above what her health seems to allow. She documents her journey with CF through her YouTube blog called “My Daily Breath”. It helps her cope as well as share her experience.

Down the hall is a childhood friend and fellow CF patient Poe (Moises Arias in a tempered down gay sidekick role). Oh, and there’s the new guy, the hunky and brooding Will (Cole Sprouse) who’s channeling as much early Johnny Depp as he can muster. He’s there for an experimental drug trial. While Stella and Will may share the same disease, otherwise they couldn’t be more opposite. Of course that changes and a mutual attraction begins.

From there the movie operates under the same rules as most of these things do – a bittersweet romance, the looming threat of disease-related death, and a bathtub filled to the rim with tears. The tension here is that Stella and Will must remain six feet apart to keep from sharing potentially fatal bacteria. As their relationship intensifies so does the longing to be closer. But their heartbreaking reality is the real antagonist of the film.

In his feature film debut director Justin Baldoni gets several things right. Teen romances can be hard to digest but his is easy to buy into. It forms and grows naturally despite a few missteps by the script. And Baldoni definitely sells the setting. Practically the entire film takes place in a hospital ward and a lot of detail is put into making it as realistic as possible.

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It’s the final 15 minutes that sees the movie nosedive into melodramatic overkill. It’s as if the filmmakers lost faith in both their story and their storytelling and turned to a sappy Nicholas Sparks-ish ending. It still gets to you and your eyes are sure to well up. But unlike earlier in the film, I could feel the tug of manipulation throughout the final leg.

A part of me really appreciates the sheer education value of “Five Feet Apart”. It drops a ton of information and provides an earnest depiction of cystic fibrosis which can be eye-opening for people like me. It’s also great that it offers another opportunity for Haley Lu Richardson to show why she’s one of the best young actresses working today. But that ending. It doesn’t quite kill the good that comes before it, but it comes mighty close.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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REVIEW: “Operation Finale” (2018)

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Otto Adolf Eichmann was a high-ranking Nazi SS officer and one of the key architects of Hitler’s “Final Solution”. Decorated and revered among the Nazi hierarchy, Eichmann’s fingerprints were all over the Holocaust. He would organize and oversee the mass deportation of Jewish communities to extermination camps across Eastern Europe during World War II. The hunt and subsequent capture of Eichmann is a fascinating story to behold.

After World War II Adolf Eichmann escaped custody and hid throughout Europe before settling in Buenos Aires. “Operation Finale” from director Chris Weitz spotlights the Israeli intelligence team who located Eichmann and were tasked with bringing him back to Jerusalem to stand trial before the nation.

Oscar Isaac stars as Peter Malkin, a secret agent from the more aggressive wing of the Mossad. In 1960 the intelligence agency initially ignores a lead claiming Eichmann had been spotted in Argentina. But fearing public outcry, Malkin and his team are sent to South America to covertly extract Eichmann under the noses of an unhelpful local government and a rising Nazi sentiment. Ben Kingsley plays the enigmatic Eichmann, a queasy mixture of family man and outright monster.

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First time screenwriter Matthew Orton covers a lot of ground in the film’s two-hour running time. A good chunk is spent peeling back the layers of Eichmann and revealing an unexpected touch of humanity. It’s a tough juggling act particularly for Kingsley who is both unsettling and convincing. His portrayal hides Eichmann’s heinous beliefs behind a veil of good manners and fatherly devotion giving form to what historian Hannah Arendt referred to as “the banality of evil”.

Then you have the Jewish intelligence team whose pain-driven impulses for revenge routinely clash with their sense of duty. It is especially true for Peter who still finds himself haunted by flashbacks of the German atrocities. This adds another level of stress to the already demanding mission. Some good performances fill out the rest of the team – Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, and the always good French actress Mélanie Laurent. She plays a doctor and Peter’s former love interest although their relationship isn’t given a lot of detail.

An integral side story features one of my favorite young actresses Haley Lu Richardson (“Columbus”, “The Edge of Seventeen”). She plays Sylvia, the daughter of Lothar Hermann (Peter Strauss) who secretly feeds information to the Israelis regarding Eichmann’s whereabouts. But her budding relationship with Eichmann’s Nazi-sympathizing son (Joe Alwyn) puts her in a precarious position. It’s an interesting story angle but unfortunately Richardson’s character gets lost in the third act as the film crunches the timeline and focuses more on the extraction.

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The film’s slow boil may push away those looking for a snappier or more action-oriented thriller. But I appreciated its deliberate pacing and attention to character. As I said about Richardson, not everyone gets the fullest treatment, but there are some fabulous character-driven moments specifically between Isaac and Kingsley. They offer some great exchanges amid two top form performances.

Producers Fred Berger and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones have stated that there is far more truth to their story than dramatic license. That’s one reason you won’t find “Operation Finale” leaning too heavily on routine tropes and gimmicks to amp up the tension. They want it to come from a more authentic place. That gives this film a different feel – patient, even methodical to a point. It wouldn’t appear to be the easiest sell, but a strong backing from MGM Studios ensured its production.

It has been said that as the end of the war drew close Eichmann declared he could “leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.” It’s that deep-seated wickedness and unspeakable callousness mixed with their own personal losses that drove the Mossad throughout this incredible mission. “Operation Finale” shines a light on their efforts and does so with reverence, patience and with the help of one stellar cast.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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