The reviews for the 2023 movie “Golda” are in, and they are as mixed as an Israeli salad.
As of this writing, the Rotten Tomatoes “tomatometer,” which is an amalgam of critics’ reviews from across the Internet, displays a splatting tomato on its page for “Golda.”
The film, directed by Israeli Guy Nattiv, was released this year with Helen Mirren in the titular role. It tells a sliver of a story of the Yom Kippur War, by affixing a camera to Mirren as then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. Only 55 percent of critics like the film, while a much larger 90 percent of moviegoers approve.
I’m in the moviegoers’ camp. Helen Mirren as Golda is convincing. It’s riveting to see the prime minister, who lived here in Milwaukee in her youth, pushing and tugging at Henry Kissinger, and managing meetings with all those 1970s men. I feel her heart sliced up by the radioed-in voices of soldiers being killed. The film shows us how some of those deaths arguably happened because she did not think to overrule her advisers and better prepare.
We see a young nation at risk and its leaders making hard choices. They’re in over their heads, and rising to the occasion after initial failures, or not. This was an oversized moment for the Jewish people, days long, yet the movie felt like it was over before it started. Go see it.
So, what do the critics see that I don’t see? They see a movie that seems like it’s all about Golda smoking. They say it’s dull. They also say the film is beneath the real Golda, that it doesn’t capture the fraught historical moment and the person well enough.
This, to me, is another example of movie critics not bringing to the movies what the people bring. A critic is often a reviewer of all movies, not just the genre the moviegoer is interested in. Critics seem to think more than the rest of us do about the process of filmmaking and about comparisons to similar movies. I don’t care about that. I just want to feel like I saw a good movie.
This dynamic, I think, is what helps lead to a critic-moviegoer disconnect. If you love action and suspense movies, you might have enjoyed the 2008 movie “Taken,” with Liam Neeson, where he plays a trained secret agent out to rescue a family member, but Rotten Tomatoes gives it a splat. Did you see “The Lion King,” Disney’s 1994 musical hit? The audience score is 88 percent, but for the critics it’s a splat. “Venom”? Splat. “Twilight”? Splat.
Rotten Tomatoes even tells us: “Having lost much of its bite transitioning to the big screen, ‘Twilight’ will please its devoted fans, but do little for the uninitiated.”
Exactly. I didn’t just bring a willingness to see a random film to my “Golda” screening. I brought my heart. I walked into the theater as a Jew, as someone who has felt astir when I’ve stood before the Western Wall. I brought with me that my grandmother used to mail me copies of the Jerusalem Post in college. That I know the world sometimes turns on Jews and the results are ugly. That I believe the Jewish people need a homeland. That I’ve interviewed and gotten to know so many Israelis.
I suspect that “Golda” could have done more with a bigger budget, for some wartime special effects. But this is a movie that stayed with me for days after I saw it. For this Jewish child of Zionists, it had power.
Rob Golub is the editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.
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For our coverage of Golda Meir’s former press aide and his visit to Milwaukee, for a showing of the 2023 “Golda” film, click here.