“THE PRIME MINISTERS: THE PIONEERS” My rating: B- (Opening Nov. 8 at the Screenland Crown Center)
116 minutes | No MPAA rating
I’m not exactly sure what to make of Richard Trank’s “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers.”
It’s not precisely pro-Israel propaganda, though it sometimes feels like it.
The documentarty is based on the best-selling memoirs of Yehuda Avner, who served as an aide and speechwriter to five Israeli prime ministers. Yet it feels curiously impersonal — even though the 80-something Avner is frequently on camera as a talking head.
On one level it’s a sweeping summation of 50 years of Middle Eastern history: war, terrorism, diplomacy. On another it’s curiously myopic.
The film follows Avner from his boyhood in England to his new life in the infant state of Israel. He must have been an effective diplomatic and political operative, since he served in the administrations of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres.
The film has been impressively made, featuring state-of-the-art production and a treasure trove of vintage newsreel footage and still photographs chronicling the early years of the Jewish state. Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy and Christoph Waltz are among the well-known actors who lend their voices to the effort.
There’s an immense amount of history here (most of it leading up to and through the Meir era…the years of Rabin, Begin and Peres will be dealt with in another documentary coming out next year).
Yet the film lacks a center. Ostensibly it should be Avnder himself, a witness to so much history. But he comes off as calm, polite, and a bit detatched…less a dynamic doer than a fly on the wall who served and observed the great and powerful around him. He’s got some good stories — including one about visiting Harry Truman in Independence — but his modesty makes for an emotionally underwhelming expereince.
“The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers” might best be viewed as a sort of survey course in Israeli history, peppered with sometimes surprising insider anecdotes.
But while it chronicles Israel’s ongoing conflicts with its Islamic neighbors, the film sidesteps all mention of why so much of the Arab world is bent on eradicating the Jewish nation. It’s not like the doc is overtly anti-Arab…its tone is more one of indifference. A person unschooled in the history of the region could come away from this movie without much of an understanding of what the conflict is all about.
| Robert W. Butler