2023 will be remembered, among other reasons, for the release of several cinematic personal life accounts, the most hyped being Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. Recently, another biopic about an emblematic figure of Israeli politics, Golda Meir, was released, and its reception dichotomized the critics as well as the audiences. Guy Nattiv's Golda certainly had a lot of potential to become a memorable political biography of a controversial figure, but in the end, even Helen Mirren's charisma as an actress is bedimmed by the movie's shortcomings: flat pacing, bad dialogue and most importantly the indecision of the creators regarding the tone of the film. It begs the question, what were Nattiv's true intentions? To direct a straightforward historical drama or a political thriller based on true events? Was the focus originally designed to be cast on Golda Meir as a human being or a political leader? The uncertainty in respect to these questions was born within the first twenty minutes of the runtime. The tonal ambiguity is also evident in the finale, in which Nattiv provides archival footage of the real Golda Meir -an unlucky choice on behalf of the director. In the footage, the Israeli prime minister who remained in power for five years (1969-1974), emits wittiness and allure, nothing like the fictional Golda that we just saw in the film. Thus, the ending serves no other purpose but overstating the production's flaws while enhancing a vague sense of dissonance experienced by many viewers.
Golda's plot revolves around the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a battle between Israelis and a coalition of Arab states, predominantly Syria and Egypt. This war meant to be an atypical revanche of the notorious 1967 Six-Day-War that made Israelis feel rather big-headed as far as their own ability to control some of the most volatile regions on earth is concerned. Narrative-wise, the film begins with a flash-forward: Golda appearing in front of the 1974 Agranat Commission which investigated the failings, political and military, during the period of the Israeli's preparation for combat. But even if this is supposed to generate an initial hint of intrigue, the story's development overrides this intention as the film never succeeds in penetrating the audience's minds, remaining shallow and hollow in its approach to the main subject. Most of the movie is about the meetings held between Meir and the military top brass, or people of her political inner circle. However, everything said in these conversations seems to be devoid of significance, despite the historical veracity of the narrative. Golda struggles to maintain control over the military generals, fostering the profile of an iron lady whose words are meant to equal commands. She carefully listens to the analyses of the generals, but she retains the final say in everything regarding the most critical decisions regarding the conflict.
To say that Mirren is good in her role would be an understatement, and the veteran actor delivers another momentous performance as Golda Meir. I read in a web article that she had to spent approximately 4 hours in the makeup chair to achieve this striking resemblance to the deceased Israeli leader. However, the potency of her portrayal is sabotaged by a deficient screenplay, insisting on depicting Golda as a chain-smoking elderly female who is both curt and terse in her conversations with the others, never offering insights to her inner world. The script doesn't allow the character to show her emotional reactions to the bad news coming back home from the battlefield. We only take some glimpses on the repercussions of the war in Golda, both as a human being and a prime minister. The most interesting moments in the film, where I felt that there was some chemistry between the characters, were Golda's phone calls with Henry Kissinger. The deep, authoritative voice of the always great Liev Schreiber commands the screen and the interplay sounded plausible and, above all, made sense, if put into the wider context of the film. Plus, I also enjoyed the instances in which Golda's façade cracked, and she allowed herself to reveal the more humane dimension of her persona; sometimes by tenderly caressing the face of a secretary whose son is in the front or by showing kindness and respect to the person who takes care of her and is responsible for alleviating the symptoms of her cancer treatment.
I always have high expectations from such productions, anticipating not only a movie that will illuminate me academically but also entertain me as well. Golda does neither. The interspersed war archival footage further blurs the tone of a genre-resistant production in the worst possible sense. Mirren could achieve something truly great here, but the paucity of both the direction and the screenplay are dragging her down. I rarely provide a star rating, but in this case, I would give Nattiv’s biography no more than 2/5 stars.