Long before 1948 when Israel officially became a Middle Eastern state, it was plagued by turmoil and unrest. To this day, Palestinians, Syrians, and other Arab nations occasionally initiate aggressions toward the tiny nation. Surrounded on almost every side by hostile enemies (separated by water), Israel had managed to stave off their advances and a portion of their success back in 1973 was due to the tenacity of their leaders including the Prime Minister at that time, Golda Meir (Dame Helen Mirren; The Queen). Often featured in media, Meir has been the subject of books, television shows, and films, including this month's latest, simply titled Golda.
Two years before Meir became Prime Minister, Israel increased in size as the result of the Six-Day War. Then six years later on one of the holiest days in the Jewish religion, Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israel on what became known as the Yom Kippur War. For 19 days, Israel did its best to combat an invasion but suffered heavy casualties. Ambushed and outsmarted, they fell into one trap after another meant to isolate and conquer the Israeli forces. Aided by her top military advisors, Meir thought she was making educated decisions, but they turned out to be nearly fatal mistakes. Luckily, Israel eventually pushed their enemies back and a cease-fire was negotiated.
Throughout the movie's 100 minute run time, emphasis is placed on Meir's cigarette smoking that it becomes distracting to the important events taking place. Meir is portrayed as a decisive leader who made decisions based not only on facts but also on the "gut instincts" of those around her. Occasionally, there seemed to be a sense that she would rather not make military decisions and once even stated that she was a politician, not a soldier.
Mirren, as one would expect, does a marvelous job portraying Meir, though her casting did stir controversy since she is not Jewish. While the criticism is legitimate, Mirren is excellent and I'm not sure another actress could have pulled it off any better. With help from the makeup department Mirren is transformed into the 70+ year old Israeli prime minister and thanks to Mirren's performance, it is easy to forget who is playing the role and only see the Israeli Prime Minister. Her wardrobe even includes her signature footwear - orthopedic shoes - to further lend authenticity to the character.
She is also wonderful during the scenes where she is listening to the live battle, as it becomes obvious the shouting, screaming and artillery sounds are taking an emotional toll on Meir. The tears in her eyes, digging at her fingers until she bleeds, etc. show the physical manifestation of her emotional pain. While the supporting cast is good, Mirren commands the screen, just as I am certain Golda Meir commanded any room she walked into.
Director Guy Nattiv (Skin) makes purposeful decisions with close-ups and camera angles. As previously stated, the chain-smoking becomes too much of the focus times and, while I'm sure Nattiv thought the visual looked interesting, watching Golda blow cigarette smoke up into the air and have it dissolve into a different scene, was overly dramatic. Conversely, the ever-growing body count in the morgue as Meir walks by them on her way to secret radiation therapy appointments is chilling and disturbing.
Every movie based on a true story, especially political ones, always have some sort if slant that is favorable to one side or the other of an argument. Golda definitely tries to be raw and gritty but casts Meir in a positive light that some might argue is unrealistic. She was a controversial figure who dealt with unrest and turmoil as she tried to govern. Regardless of whether you liked her or not, Mirren as the title character is a must-see as a potential Oscar nominee.