This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.Whenever a screen performer held in high esteem with a long career of outstanding work finds themselves trying to fight free of a slog of a film, there becomes something fascinating in watching their attempt. Even when they succeed, it just lays bare how the rest of the experience is itself not up to the challenge. Such is the case with the tedious historical drama that is Golda in which Helen Mirren plays the titular character in what amounts to, at best, an only serviceable impersonation of the ailing figure that is left with nowhere to go. Placing us primarily in the period of the Yom Kippur War followed by the subsequent questioning of Golda Meir about her role in it as Prime Minister of Israel, it is a film that is fundamentally inert with little to no interest in exploring any potentially incisive ideas about its subject or the period beyond the surface. The performance of Mirren, sporting prosthetics and a wig, embodies the film’s greatest problem: even if you get swept up in the recreation, it’s in service of very little. Dressing up a dud doesn’t make it any less of a dud when held up to the light.

Written by Nicholas Martin and directed by Guy Nattiv, who previously made the Oscar-winning short Skin, Golda is a film in which everything from the dialogue to the staging of the scenes is stodgy. It is not that the film mostly being talky is an issue as Christopher Nolan’s colossal Oppenheimer from last month proved that something interesting can be found in the pace of the editing in how all this is constructed. The way that would cut across time made it feel like we were hurtling through memories towards disaster. Golda, on the other hand, is mostly a dull disaster as opposed to an exploration of one. While it was unlikely that it was going to be as engaging as that based on the more confined story it was setting out to tell, it still manages to feel slight rather than substantive. While many biopics can get lost in the shuffle of trying to cover too much in a single feature, Golda zooms in on what could’ve been a revealing period in its subject’s life only to still fall into superficiality. The attempts to give it emotional heft, through interjections of what is taking place outside her orbit, are too fleeting to leave an impact and only feel like halfhearted gestures due to how quickly they pass.

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Mirren Can’t Carry ‘Golda’ All on Her Own

Image via Bleecker Street

The film attempts to lean on the performance of Mirren, who sure does smoke her cigarettes quite convincingly, but that is not enough to give it the necessary depth. The trouble just keeps coming back to how empty the experience is, feeling like a stiff play gasping out for some energy. Though Mirren has shown that she is more than capable of bringing life to works that may be lacking in it, that just isn’t enough to hold this one together. The best way to explain the experience of watching the film, which mostly takes place in smoke-filled rooms while Golda and a group of military men make decisions about the war over the course of several days of conflict, can be best expressed by a moment of a nightmare she experiences alone that becomes a bit of a visual metaphor. Laying back on her bed with her cigarette in hand, the leader exhales a cloud of smoke and the sound of death comes rushing in as she does so.

This non-diegetic insert, almost feeling familiar to elements of last year’s evocative and grim The Stranger, falls flat when she then sucks it all back in. Anything more potentially striking just gets swallowed up by the standard way everything else comes together. A more disquieting score, which could have taken hold like Mica Levi’s did in Jackie, instead is still oddly held at a distance. The nightmares of the conflict that haunts Golda in her home, captured via a roaming camera as the constant ringing of the phones begins to reach deafening levels, feel like it is one of many instances that are being guided by an oddly clumsy hand. Its execution is meant to evoke fear and pain though it just comes across as bluntly banal. Toss in far too many other moments where the effects completely take you out of a scene and the film’s struggles become insurmountable for its committed performers.

‘Golda’ Is Insipid Rather Than Insightful

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir and Liev Schreiber as Henry Kissinger in Golda.
Image via Bleecker Street

Also in the picture is Liev Schreiber‘s portrayal of a middle-aged Henry Kissinger who talks with Golda on the phone before coming to visit her in person about an hour in. The scene the two share is the film’s best and feels like it is getting at something more, establishing how the world as we know it today is shaped by such conversations, especially when monstrous men like Kissinger are involved. The problem is that it just remains an incomplete portrait of Golda, whose legacy itself is a complicated one, and of the moment in time it is supposedly exploring. Some of the final conversations towards the end start to cut a little bit deeper, bringing parts of the person underneath the public figure into focus, though it comes too late to be of enough significance. It is mostly a drag with some potentially sharper small details never coming together to outweigh the dullness at its core. For those who may come to the film wanting to understand more of who Golda was and her role in history via a well-written character study, they’ll only end up departing it with all of those questions still lingering.

Rating: D+

The Big Picture

  • Golda is a tedious historical drama lacking substance and depth, despite Helen Mirren’s performance.
  • The film’s dialogue, staging, and overall execution are stodgy and unengaging.
  • While there are fleeting attempts to add emotional weight, the film ultimately falls flat and fails to provide meaningful insight into its subject or the period it covers.

Golda is in theaters starting August 25.

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