Review by Andy Ray
After about a minute of historical background – taking us from the founding of the country of Israel in 1948, though the six-day war of 1967, up to the days immediately preceding the 1973 invasion by Egypt and Syria – cinematographer Jasper Wolf focuses an extreme close-up on the exasperated face of Israel’s chain-smoking Prime Minister Golda Meir. It is a way for us to see the irritation and inner fury of a woman torn between promoting peace in the most volatile area of the world and protecting her land and its citizens. It also shows us the excellent make-up job which buries British actress Helen Mirren into the persona of Meir – someone she doesn’t resemble in the least.
These are the opening scenes in Guy Nattiv’s “Golda,” not so much a biography of Meir as a snapshot of her performance during the time when her country (and the world) needed her most. In this respect, “Golda” is something akin to Joe Wright’s 2017 film “Darkest Hour,” which chronicled British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s early days in office. “Darkest Hour” won Gary Oldman an Oscar. “Golda” might do the same for Mirren. She’s that good. But much as with “Darkest Hour,” her performance is better than the film.
“Golda” contains perhaps one too many scenes of Meir meeting with her cabinet regarding the invasion – an aggression which caught military leader and defense secretary Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger) off guard. Dayan’s missed call results in his voluntary decision to step down from his role. Yet Meir continues to rely on his expertise as the Egyptians and Syrians wage a two-front war against their sworn enemy.
Turning to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (a subdued Liev Schreiber) for assistance, Meir is practically forced into accepting a peace agreement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat so the Americans can keep Saudi oil flowing into their country. Recall that 1973 was the year of the OPEC oil crisis, during which supply lines were cut and angry Americans lined up for blocks to fill up at their local gas stations. This was also the time of the Watergate scandal – effectively rendering President Richard Nixon a lame duck, and concentrating world relations almost solely in the hands of Kissinger.
Meir’s effective and stern response to Kissinger’s peace agreement ultimatum is the heart and soul of “Golda.” I only wish there had been more scenes showing us her feisty and stern nature in the face of daunting crisis. Clocking in at only one hour and forty minutes, Nattiv could have fleshed out Nicholas Martin’s original screenplay, and given us at least one more classic Golda Meir moment. Perhaps rather than focusing only on the 1973 war, he could have also encompassed the assassination of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
But given the film which Nattiv has made, we can say “Golda” is an effective snapshot of one moment in the reign of one of Israel’s most beloved figures. It features another magnificent performance by Helen Mirren, who gets inside Meir’s psyche and lets us see how she operates – rather than simply giving us an impersonation. On the other hand, “Golda” is likely to become lost in the Oscar shuffle this year. There are many highly anticipated films yet to be released, and “Golda” is already not up to the high bar set by Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.”
I recommend “Golda,” with the caveat that I expect to see more riveting fare as the studios roll out their Oscar fare this fall.