Title: The Prime Ministers
Director: Richard Trank
An insider’s account of almost six decades of Israeli history, the deadly dull “The Prime Ministers” is a Zionist booster shot that trades away what benefits in firsthand recollection and access it has through a steady drip of reflexive self-importance. The thirteenth production of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Academy Award-winning Moriah Films banner, this documentary isn’t so much a work of historical illumination or even the cinematic equivalent of a series of policy papers as it is a very tightly curated field trip through the turbulent annals of modern Israel. A viewer’s taste will vary accordingly.
Adapted from a bestselling book by Yehuda Avner, director Richard Trank’s movie takes as its central figure the author himself, an aide and speechwriter to leaders like Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres. Trank has a dazzling array of stock footage at his disposal, to help tell Israel’s story. But he chooses, in a misguided attempt to “dramatize” events and/or lend it some measure of marquee, stamp-of-approval star power, to fuel “The Prime Ministers” by way of a series of voiceovers. Some of this is taken from extant text, some embellished or paraphrased from memory, but it’s played over newsreel material and other pictures from these different eras, with Sandra Bullock serving as the voice of Meir, Michael Douglas as Rabin, Leonard Nimoy as Eshkol and Christoph Waltz as Begin. Most of the actors play it fairly straight (though Bullock is especially strident), yet this tack creates a disconnect with Avner’s own true-life memories.
There’s also the fact that Trank’s film is largely bereft of the sort of the contextualization that would help moor it and give it shading and depth, as well as possibly a shot at wider appeal. “The Prime Ministers” details the strong Israeli-American bond (with special emphasis on Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, for their crucial lending of military support), but in a facile, chatty and oddly diminishing way — one that doesn’t sketch out or even really take into account the full parameters of calculation on the part of various presidential administrations of the United States. Avner’s anecdotes lend a certain human grace to many of the men and women with whom he worked in helping to create a modern Jewish state. But “The Prime Ministers,” in all its jumbled eagerness to tell you its important story, can’t see the forest for the trees.
NOTE: Following its presentation in New York City, “The Prime Ministers” opens this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal and Laemmle Town Center, followed by an expansion to other cities and venues. For more information, visit the movie’s website at www.ThePrimeMinisters-TheFilm.com.
Written by: Brent Simon