As much as biopics are getting to be a tired part of cinema, there is a narrative choice that some of the more successful films make. Now, something like Oppenheimer is a unicorn, but for the most part, a biopic that works seeks to only look at one element of its subject’s life. Golda, a biopic of Golda Meir, smartly doesn’t take the cradle to grave approach. It’s trying to be something closer to Lincoln, for example. While the film falls well short of that mark, it’s somber and serious cinema that you can’t quite shake. Plus, there’s a lead performance that rightly takes up most of your attention.
Golda is the sort of movie that would be an Oscar juggernaut a generation ago. The Academy has somewhat moved beyond this kind of a flick, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. Are there flaws? Sure. Is the makeup used to transform our lead into Meir a lot? Of course. Do you still leave the film having felt like you watching something important? That’s damn right.
This is a moment in time in the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Helen Mirren). Specifically, the film is set in 1973 during the nineteen days of the Yom Kippur War. Informed that the war is beginning by Zvi Zamir (Rotem Keinan) of the Mossad, Meir has all eyes on her. With only her personal assistant Lou Kaddar (Camille Cottin) unflinchingly on her side, she knows that many are waiting to see if she fails in the spotlight.
Faced with the potential destruction of Israel, Meir navigates her disagreeing cabinet, her relationship with the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber), as well as her own doubts. Through the conflict, she provided steady leadership, helping to keep the country together, which would eventually lead to her legacy in history.
Helen Mirren is very much the star and the selling point here. For 100 minutes, she’s in nearly every scene, so it’s up to her to hook you in. Despite the overwhelming makeup on her, Mirren’s eyes are there for us to see, allowing us to connect with the character. It’s very good work, even if it won’t blow you away like she did with her Academy Award-winning turn in The Queen. Camille Cottin and Liev Schreiber and under-utilized, but recognizable/welcome presences. The supporting cast includes the aforementioned Rotem Keinan, as well as Lior Ashkenazi, Dvir Benedek, Rami Heuberger, Dominic Mafham, Ellie Piercy, and Ed Stoppard, among others.
Director Guy Nattiv takes the material seriously, focusing in on the title character far more than the war. The script by Nicholas Martin is somewhat standard issue, but Nattiv keeps a laser focus on Meir. Now, there are way too many scenes centered around her smoking a cigarette, while the makeup caked on to Mirren is close to be distracting, but the director and star manage to overcome that. Nattiv and Mirren make a strong pair, finding the compelling nature of the leader and bringing her to the screen.
Golda is a solid enough movie elevated by a reliably good performance from a reliably good actress. Is the film going to blow you away or win any awards? Unlikely. At the same time, it’s kind of a surprise that it took this long to get this story on screen. That in and of itself is an accomplishment. As Nattiv continues to make his mark on cinema, I’m very curious to see what he does next.