Monday, August 21, 2023

Golda, Co-Starring Liev Schreiber as Kissinger

In many ways, the Yom Kippur War was a lot like the Tet Offensive. It was a surprise attack over a holiday that caught Israel by surprise. The media spun Tet into a Communist victory, even though the South and their American allies successfully beat back the Viet Cong. It is impossible to spin the Yom Kippur War as a victory for Egypt and Syria for several reasons, starting with the obvious fact Israel still exists. However, it was looking really grim during the initial days. Guy Nattiv takes viewers into the celebrated Israeli Prime Minister’s war-room in Golda, which releases Friday in theaters.

Some Israelis blamed Golda Meir for not being better prepared for the 1973 war, but clearly Nattiv and screenwriter Nicholas Martin do not. There were early warning signs, but they were interpreted very differently by legendary Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Mossad chief Zvi Zamir. Unfortunately, Zamir was more right than wrong. Being a natural politician, Meir basically split the difference between their recommendations. It also certainly did not help that Meir had promised Kissinger and Nixon to wait for her war-mongering neighbors to fire the first shot, before Israel would start to defend itself.

However, having stayed true to her word, Kissinger agrees to expedite more military aid and diplomatically pressure the Soviets to stay out of the fight. It is important to remember Israel and the U.S, did not enjoy as close a relationship then as we do now. In fact, Nattiv and Martin nicely illustrate the legacy of the Yom Kippur War, including the Camp David Accords and a much closer alliance between our two countries.

Frankly, it is kind of shocking Liev Schreiber agreed to play Kissinger, especially since the film portrays the former Secretary of State in at least a halfway sympathetic manner, if not better. Apparently, it is tough to turn down an opportunity to appear opposite Dame Helen Mirren. For viewers, it was worth Schreiber risking his career, because their terrific scenes together crackle with wit and intelligence.

Mirren is also pretty good is her scenes with everyone else, particularly Lior Ashkenazi as IDF Chief of Staff David Alazar, Rami Heuberger as Dayan, and Rotem Keinan as Zamir. Less successful are the private moments she shares with confidential secretary Lou Kaddar (played by Camille Cottin) exploring all her aches and physical failings. We can all empathize, but a little of this goes a long way—and there a lot of it. Nevertheless, what starts as a good feature-showcase for Mirren evolves into an effective ensemble film.

The military and political strategizing consistently makes for grabby drama, which Nattiv fully explores. We understand the stakes only too well, thanks to the notebook in which Meir maintains a tally of the casualties. The film deftly humanizes her, as well as several other Israeli government and military officials associated with the Yom Kippur War.

Viewers can learn a great deal from those 19 days, at least according to the U.S. military, who closely studied the war to refine NATO plans for a Soviet invasion of Europe (which maybe they should dust off again). It also reminds us of Syria’s war crimes, torturing and executing prisoners-of-war. Throughout it all, Nattiv presents the burdens of command, in a meaningful way, with great sensitivity for all involved. Highly recommended,
Golda opens Friday (8/25) in New York, including the Angelika Film Center.