×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers’

This celebratory overview of Israel's first three decades is best suited for home-screen consumption.

With:

Yehuda Avner, Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Christoph Waltz.

If an entire country were to commission an authorized biography, it likely would resemble “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” filmmaker Richard Trank’s celebratory overview of Israel’s first three decades. Produced by Moriah Films, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and based on the book by Yehuda Avner, who serves here as avuncular host and talking head, the documentary (still playing theaters Stateside since its Oct. 18 New York opening) is moderately interesting as a once-over-lightly political history lesson best suited for home-screen consumption. Amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes sporadically lighten the prevailingly reverential tone.

A former Israeli diplomat who served in sundry capacities under such icons as Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin, Avner — now a hearty and loquacious octogenarian — was singularly well placed to be an eyewitness to history. His vivid recollections of key event, particularly the triumphant Six Day War and the near-disastrous Yom Kippur War, have the solid ring of authoritative accounts offered with an insider’s perspective, and are aptly illustrated by often compelling archival footage.

Unfortunately, Trank’s efforts to embellish Avner’s narrative are by turns overbearing and distracting. Lee Holdridge’s intrusive musical score all too obviously strains to overinflate emotional responses that the words and images elicit on their own.

And the gimmick of well-known actors (with recognizable voices) doing voiceovers as Meir (Sandra Bullock), Rabin (Michael Douglas), Eshkol (Leonard Nimoy) and Begin (Christoph Waltz) is a decidedly mixed blessing. Bullock is a standout for all the wrong reasons, primarily because the audience cannot help comparing her disembodied voice with the conspicuously different sound of the real Meir in vintage clips. Trank doesn’t help matters with his decision to have Bullock more or less dub the late prime minister during a key scene.

On the other hand, Avner effortlessly increases the entertainment value of “The Prime Ministers” with colorful stories about other historical personages, some of whom are voiced by lesser-known talents. His account of how Eshkol and President Lyndon B. Johnson bonded while tending to a calf at Johnson’s Texas ranch sounds like the kind of stranger-than-fiction episode that could inspire a feature-length, fact-based dramedy. And Avner’s suggestion that a Watergate-plagued President Nixon was at least partly inebriated when he approved an Israeli arms deal during the Yom Kippur War is at once disconcerting and darkly comical.

Film Review: 'The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers'

Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Nov. 3, 2013. Running time: 115 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) A Moriah Films release. Produced by Marvin Hier, Richard Trank. Co-producers, Katrin Osmialowski, Nimrod Erez.

Crew:

Directed by Richard Trank. Written by Trank, Marvin Hier, based on the book by Yehuda Avner. Camera (B&W/color), Jeffrey Victor; editor, Nimrod Erez; music, Lee Holdridge; sound, Mark Friedman, Tim Boland; associate producers, Jason Spira-Bauer, Aviva C. Weinstein.

With:

Yehuda Avner, Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Christoph Waltz.

More Film

  • Gay Chorus Deep South

    Why Airbnb Produced Documentary 'Gay Chorus Deep South,' Its First-Ever Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    The latest player to hit the film-festival circuit may be a bit unexpected: Airbnb, the travel-accommodations booking marketplace, developed, financed and produced documentary film “Gay Chorus Deep South,” set to premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 29. It’s the company’s very first feature film. Directed by David Charles Rodrigues, “Gay Chorus Deep [...]

  • Clint Eastwood May Direct 'The Ballad

    Clint Eastwood May Direct 'The Ballad of Richard Jewell'

    Clint Eastwood may direct “The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” a look at a security guard whose life gets turned upside down after media reports identified him as a possible suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. The film is currently set up at Disney/Fox and could reunite Eastwood with Alan Horn, the current Disney Studios [...]

  • Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse

    Film Review: 'Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse'

    If “The Witch” had been directed by the early-career Werner Herzog of “Aguirre,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” the result might have been something in the spirit of “Hagazussa,” Lukas Feigelfeld’s wholly arresting feature debut. Given the extended U.S. title “A Heathen’s Curse” to underline saleable supernatural elements, this enigmatic folktale-cum-horror is [...]

  • Alex Ross Perry

    Alex Ross Perry to Write and Direct Stephen King's 'Rest Stop' for Legendary

    Alex Ross Perry will write and direct Legendary’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rest Stop.” King’s short, first published in Esquire magazine in 2003, won the national magazine award for fiction in 2004, and was later included in King’s 2008 collection, “Just After Sunset.” The movie is described as a propulsive cat-and-mouse thriller [...]

  • Hobbs & Shaw trailer

    'Hobbs & Shaw' New Trailer Touts More High-Intensity Fights

    A new “Hobbs & Shaw” trailer packs in the international action with fast cars and high-intensity fight scenes.  When the first trailer dropped in February, viewers were introduced to the genetically-enhanced villain Brixton, played by Idris Elba, as well as a newly cordial relationship between old enemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason [...]

  • ralph Fiennes WHITE CROW Directing BTS

    Ralph Fiennes Examines Rudolf Nureyev's Complicated Life in 'The White Crow'

    The story of “The White Crow,” Ralph Fiennes’ latest directorial effort, is as topical as anything currently sitting on the desk of a studio head. It tells of a rebellious artist grappling with his sexuality during turbulent political times rife with tensions between the United States and an agitated Russia.  But though the upcoming film, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content