Movies Review

Movie Review: ‘Golda’

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Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

Opening in theaters on August 25th, ‘Golda’ is a look at a specific moment in the life of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Starring Helen Mirren and directed by Guy Nattiv (who previously made based-on-truth biopic ‘Skin), it’s a dramatically satisfying film that still suffers from some issues of scale and pace.

Golda

Not Yet Rated1 hr 40 min

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A thriller that chronicles the high-stake responsibilities and controversial decisions that Meir – also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Israel’ – faced during… Read the Plot

What’s the story of ‘Golda’?

Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

‘Golda’ is a ticking-clock thriller set during the tense 19 days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Mirren), faced with the potential of Israel’s complete destruction, must navigate overwhelming odds, a skeptical cabinet, and a complex relationship with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber), with millions of lives in the balance.

Her tough leadership and compassion would ultimately decide the fate of her nation and leave her with a controversial legacy around the world.

Who else is in ‘Golda’?

Liev Schreiber in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

Liev Schreiber in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

‘Golda’s cast also includes Henry Goodman, Emma Davies, Camille Cottin, Rotem Keinan, Jonathan Tafler, Ellie Piercy and Rami Heuberger.

Related Article: Director Guy Nattiv Talks ‘Golda’ and Working with Helen Mirren

Does ‘Golda’ succeed?

Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

Helen Mirren in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

Telling the story of a real-life figure is always tricky. There was a time when most examples were the cradle-to-grave variety, picking up the person effectively from birth, stopping at certain important waypoints in their lives and attempting to cram in some assessment of their legacy.

These days, however, the fashion is for movies that focus instead on a specific time period of the person, especially for those that have had their stories told in the past.

Golda Meir, who served as Israel’s Prime Minister, has had her life brought to screens at least twice already, in 2003 and 2019 notably. Both of those were documentaries, and now here comes the biodrama version, which takes as its focus her choices and actions during the Yom Kippur War.

It’s a particularly fertile time during Meir’s Prime Ministerial reign (she was the head of Israel’s government between 1969 and 1974), since it saw her dealing with a particularly thorny crisis for the country, as it came under attack by Egypt and Syria (with Russia backing the Arabic side and America throwing its support behind Israel).

This take on the tale has one giant advantage, and that is Dame Helen Mirren. The veteran British actor is slavered in make-up that give her at least a close approximation of the leader. But it’s in her performance that she really brings the woman to life, finding the quiet moments between the bombast and smoking more than your average chimney (and, as history and the movie itself records, paying the price via the lymphatic cancer that took her life in 1978).

Helen Mirren and Camille Cottin in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

(L to R) Helen Mirren and Camille Cottin in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

Mirren is, of course, excellent in the role, whether the scene demands she square off against the male members of her cabinet who disagree with her decisions or finding time for silent reflection on the roof of her apartment building.

Around her, there is a solid cast, most notably Cottin as Lou Kaddar, her ever-reliable personal assistant, and Heuberger as Moshe Dayan, an old colleague and friend whose advice is invaluable, but whose spirit flags as the early period of the conflict turns badly against Israel.

Nattiv works carefully to bring out the best in his lead and supporting cast, and, along with writer Nicholas Martin, finds effective ways to handle the drama. Visually-speaking, there are a few striking moments, and a scene where she must listen over a military radio as Israeli forces suffer a devastating loss, is the standout moment in the movie.

And while some will have problems with the non-Jewish Mirren slapping on make-up to play a Jewish icon, it’s handled so respectfully that the issue doesn’t derail the movie’s impact.

Where does ‘Golda’ stumble?

Helen Mirren and Lior Ashkenazi in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures' 'Golda.'

(L to R) Helen Mirren and Lior Ashkenazi in Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures’ ‘Golda.’ Credit: Sean Gleason, Courtesy of Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

There are some problems lurking within this one, though –– while the war moments are handled effectively within the budget constraints, it’s hard not to view this one as a TV movie that somehow found its way into a theater. Though some scenes are all the more effective because of the tight focus, others come across as ambition curtailed, which make the offering seem that much smaller and humbler, when a bigger scope could have helped up the gravitas.

Still, it’s worth noting that a biopic about a chain-smoking Israeli Prime Minister probably doesn’t draw the sort of funding that Steven Spielberg can demand for, say, ‘Lincoln’ (or, staying closer on target, ‘Munich’, which features a portrayal of Meir).

And while Nattiv gets creative in places, there are still some cliches of the genre his movie unavoidably falls into, while –– despite his and Mirren’s best efforts –– it never quite crawls under the skin of its subject, no matter how effective the lead actor is in inhabiting it.

There is more than one scene that you’ll find yourself thinking that you’ve seen this in a hundred different variations.

'Golda' director Guy Nattiv.

‘Golda’ director Guy Nattiv.

Also, Meir is a truly complicated, captivating subject, and doesn’t need much in the way of cinematically stylistic tricks to make her story work, but Nattiv can’t help himself in some instances, especially a confounding scene later on that pans across a hallway full of dead birds. Symbolism is one thing. This feels like a hammer blow more than a scene.

‘Golda’ will most certainly not be for everyone. History buffs will enjoy seeing a key portion of Meir’s life dramatically realized (no matter the liberties that must be taken in any movie of this sort), and those who appreciate the work of Helen Mirren are certain to be drawn to the movie, which doesn’t let its issues completely sink it.

As biopics (or partial biopics) go, it remains an engrossing look at a controversial figure, albeit one that might have benefitted from heading to a limited TV series where it might have received the scope it truly required.

‘Golda’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.

'Golda' from Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

‘Golda’ from Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

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