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Review: Golda (2023)

Golda (2023)

Directed by: Guy Nattiv

Premise: Based on true events. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Helen Mirren) leads her country through the Yom Kippur War.

What Works: Golda takes a specific approach to its portrait of the former Israeli Prime Minister. Rather than a cradle to grave story, the filmmakers focus on the nineteen-day conflict in which Israel was invaded by Syria in the north and Egypt in the south. The attack was an existential threat to Israel and Golda is a portrait of a world leader grappling with a chaotic situation. Leadership is best demonstrated under pressure and the film dramatizes that idea. The filmmakers avoid the stoic approach so commonly found in historical movies. It isn’t that Meir is portrayed as overly emotional but the movie does convey the physical and emotional toll these events took on Meir who was undergoing cancer treatment while managing a two-front war. That’s the key of Helen Mirren’s terrific performance. She’s undergone significant prosthetic makeup but more importantly Mirren creates a vivid character who is vulnerable but manages sexism, military strategy, and political calculations while coping with the grief of casualties and the fear of invasion. The filmmakers clearly have admiration for Meir but they also acknowledge some of the failures of strategy that exacerbated the war and led to Israeli casualties. Most of the movie is quite tense. The filmmakers create the impression of an imminent threat but without a lot of battlefield scenes. Golda has a noir vibe, partly owing to Meir’s chain smoking, and a feel of danger and grief. Sound is used very effectively especially in scenes of Meir and others listening to radio transmissions from the front. For most of its running time this is a skillfully and intelligently produced film.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Golda have trouble finding an ending. The film is fundamentally about Golda Meir negotiating a pathway to the end of the war and ensuring the survival of her country. The Yom Kippur War was significant in the history of Middle East conflict because it concluded with a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat recognizing Israel. When this moment comes it doesn’t land with much dramatic impact. The filmmakers’ approach to this story keeps Sadat out of the narrative in any meaningful way, which is a legitimate creative choice, but the film also omits any mention of the fact that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty cost Sadat his life.

Bottom Line: Golda is a smart and intense film that dramatizes one of the historical figures at the center of the Yom Kippur War. While it doesn’t quite stick the landing, this is a thoughtful drama with a great performance by Helen Mirren. 

Episode: #964 (September 10, 2023)