Guy Nattiv (Strangers, The Flood, Skin) directs Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister, who led the country from 1969 to 1974, including through the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked the country. (in English, Hebrew, and Arabic; 100 min.)
Glen: This is a very intense film depicting a moment that could have meant the end of Israel. I was only 11 when the Yom Kippur War broke out, but I remember these characters from newscasts, especially Meir and Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) and his distinctive eyepatch. I had no idea, however, of the intricacies and political details that unfolded during the crisis. The film did a remarkable job of tying together everything that was happening at the time, including Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the oil embargo that was the result of U.S. support to Israel. I certainly didn’t realize the acrimony that befell Meir, who in some circles was blamed for not better anticipating the coming attack and preempting it. Mirren is, as usual, amazing in the role, though I did find the facial protheses and her character’s chain smoking somewhat distracting. I also thought Liev Schreiber was amazing as Henry Kissinger. It’s a depressing historical moment but worth remembering.
Anna: Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about this slice of history except a few vague memories from history class. While I know who Meir was and her role as prime minister of Israel, I didn’t know a whole lot about this war or the happenings around it. I too found the prosthesis to be somewhat distracting, and I was over the focus on her cigarette habit pretty quickly; however, Mirren is a phenomenal actress, and she takes on this role on with vigor. The film looked and felt bleak, so while I can’t claim to have had a great time watching it, it was certainly compelling. The weight of every decision was not lost on Meir. In fact, each time she learned of more Israeli soldier deaths, she took note of it in a notebook. This film intersperses Meir’s interview with the Agranat Commission, which later cleared her of any wrongdoing, and alongside the depiction of the 20 days of war before the eventual peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. If you’re a fan of Mirren, this is a no-brainer to see—her performance is great.
Glen: It’s clearly a low-budget affair. Instead of seeing staged battles, we listen with Meir and her generals to radio chatter in Hebrew of soldiers under attack. It works, but it’s not as compelling or visceral as it could have been. While the war and her political travails are going on, Meir is also secretly battling cancer and undergoing intense medical treatments. Through it all, she proves herself to be a wily politician, and it’s fascinating to watch her maneuver to force the surrounding Arabic states to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a country, not to mention see her outmaneuver Kissinger—a very savvy diplomat. If you have an interest in history, it’s worth watching, though I can’t say whether it’s accurate or a whitewashing of the truth. The creation of Israel is certainly complicated. I will say the performances are engaging.
Anna: Schreiber’s performance is equally impressive, and watching the two actors as their characters play mental chess with each other is pretty engaging. There are definitely some areas where a little more money and creativity could have helped. I get what the filmmakers were trying to convey, but there were times when those choices hurt instead of helped. Nevertheless, the film is worth a watch to see the inner workings of this politician and this war.
New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].