Review: ‘The Prime Ministers’ a vivid look at Israel’s early leaders

“The Prime Ministers”
In this October 1973 photo, Golda Meir, right, Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, center, and Aluf Hoffi speak to troops during the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights.
(Ron Frenkel / Wiesenthal Center/Israel Government)

The documentary “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” adapted by producer-director Richard Trank from the book by Yehuda Avner, examines the geopolitical state of Israel under the leadership of two of its earlier prime ministers, Levi Eshkol (1963-1969) and Golda Meir (1969-1974).

Co-written and produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, it is the first of a two-part series; the second film will be released next spring.

Avner, who worked as advisor and speechwriter to Eshkol and Meir as well as to later Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (that trio will be the focus of the follow-up film), serves as this movie’s avuncular (he’s now 84) on-camera narrator and raconteur.

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Avner’s many observations and he-was-there stories — a who’s who of international political figures from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s — combine to paint an engrossing if essentially one-sided picture of the key episodes of Israel’s first 25 years: its establishment as a Jewish state in 1948; 1967’s Six-Day War; the country’s close alliance with the United States; 1973’s Yom Kippur War and more.

A wide and excellent array of archival footage and photos vividly accompany Avner’s recitation; the numerous clips of Meir, which portray her from her youth to her last days as prime minister, are a stirring reminder of what an extraordinary leader — and woman — she was.

The film’s main misstep, however, is its unconvincing use of celebrity voices to re-create various speeches and letters by Meir (Sandra Bullock? Really?), Eshkol (Leonard Nimoy), Begin (Christoph Waltz) and Rabin (Michal Douglas). Though well-intended, their inclusion proves a needless distraction in an otherwise smart and dignified presentation.



‘The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers’

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino