Golda movie review: A missed opportunity

Cast: Helen Mirren, Liev Schreiber, Camille Cottin, Lior Ashkenazi, Ellie Piercy, Ed Stoppard, Rotem Keinan, Dvir Benedek
Director: Guy Nattiv
Rating: * * 1/2
Runtime: 100 min.

Golda is meant to be a thriller set during the tense 19 days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 when Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, had to navigate overwhelming odds, a cabinet at odds with her, and a complex relationship with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, while millions of lives were at stake. When Arab forces, led by Egypt, attacked Israel during its holiest time of the year, Meir was in the hot-seat and was severely tested as a leader who could command the respect of her people and the world at large.

Nicholas Martin’s script makes sure to get Meir’s habits in focus but the personal intimacy is missing. The Oscar-winning short film director Nattiv depicts this fraught period as a series of voluble, repetitive strategy meetings between Meir and her top military advisers. We see overhead shots of maps spread across conference room tables and are left with visible clues of  Meir’s chain-smoking habits. We see her receiving treatments for her aggressive lymphoma but at no point are we privy to what she is experiencing from inside. Is she in pain? Suffering? Well, Mirren in prosthetics goes through the mechanics of giving life to Mier’s decisiveness but beyond that, it’s all up in the air. The most powerful image we become privy to is when we see Meir consulting with her Doctor in the Morgue where we see bodies stacked along the walls. Meir’s conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber) give us brief glimpses of her warm side. Nattiv’s use of archival war footage interspersed into conversations to explain what the characters are talking about may have begun as novel but gets repetitive and tiresome towards the end.

Nattiv and cinematographer Jasper Wolf use unconventional camera angles to convey Meir’s power. But it only works well up to a point. The treatment lacks tension and feels more like a history lesson. Not a thriller by any yardstick. It feels as though Nattiv lost direction and intent while making the film. Golda is a biopic that fails to make the central character accessible to the viewer and that is a failure that just can’t be overlooked.