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(Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Golda, in theaters August 25. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

The Ukraine-born, Wisconsin-raised Gold Meir (1898-1978) served as Israel’s first and only female prime minister, taking office in 1969 and remaining there until 1974. Though she oversaw her country’s successful response to the 1973 Egyptian and Syrian attacks—what became known as the Yom Kippur War—many believed that she and her ministers were slow to react to the pending invasion and even slower to counter it. As a result, her political coalition was subsequently unable to maintain a majority, leading her to resign.

The 1973 war is at the center of Israeli director Guy Nattiv’s new film, Golda, which stars Helen Mirren (The Duke) in the title role (the late Ingrid Bergman previously played her in the 1982 A Woman Called Golda). Despite the bloody nature of the existential stakes involved—at the time, no Arab country would recognize Israel as a legitimate sovereign nation—most of the movie takes place inside living spaces and meeting rooms, Nattiv (Skin) and screenwriter Nicholas Martin (Florence Foster Jenkins) much more interested in the internal conflicts underpinning Meir’s actions than the raging battles. The result is an engaging, if somewhat limited, take on these important historical events.

Joining Mirren is an able supporting cast that includes Liev Schreiber (Human Capital), as U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Camille Cottin (Stillwater), as Meir’s personal assistant Lou Kaddar; Rami Heuberger (The Good Person), as Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan; and Lior Ashkenazi (Esau) ,as the Defense Forces Chief of Staff David Elazar. Huddled in smoke-filled halls (Meir puffing more than anyone), they agonize over what to do. Eventually, they manage to rout their enemies, but it’s touch and go for a bit.

No wonder, then, that the story revolves around the post-war investigation headed by the Agranat Commission. The public wants answers, given how unprepared Israel seemed. Some opening title cards set up the false sense of confidence that had settled over the country since its quick and easy victory in the 1967 Six-Day War that resulted in Israeli occupation of Egypt’s Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, Jordan’s West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights. But hubris, if hubris it was, requires accountability, and so Meir must defend what happened.

Golda is at its best in the tense tête-à-tête encounters between Meir and her Cabinet, or Meir and Kissinger, highlighting the way realpolitik always complicates action. For example, though Meir feels as if she should be able to count on the Jewish Kissinger to lobby U.S. President Nixon for aid, the fact that the Soviet Union supports Egypt and Syria means that the United States needs to tread lightly to avoid World War III. Plus, Saudi Arabia would cut off U.S. access to oil. Everyone has an agenda, and no one wants to make a false move.

The movie is less strong in delivering a fully three-dimensional character study of Meir, herself. Mirren (prosthetic nose and all) is fully committed to the part, but beyond a few scenes where she suffers on behalf of the young Israeli soldiers killed or smokes incessantly despite the cancer that plagues her, we are given very little to understand her motivations. Nevertheless, she is an actress who is able to convey much with very little. One just wishes she had more script as support. The added musical score does not help, merely attempting to fill in gaps that should be in the writing. Still, Golda remains a mostly compelling, if incomplete, portrait, and always watchable.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Bleecker Street Media; Guy Nattiv; Golda movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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