‘The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers’: Film Review

Richard Trank’s documentary is a follow-up to his earlier effort based on the memoirs of Yehuda Avner, who served for a variety of Israeli prime ministers.

The second in a two-part documentary film series adapted from the memoirs of the late Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers once again offers a decidedly personal view of the Israeli political history of the last several decades. Recounting Avner’s experiences serving as an aide to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, Richard Trank‘s film will best be appreciated by those already familiar with the historical events being discussed. At once frustratingly sketchy and tediously dense, this edition at least provides a cornucopia of rarely seen archival photos and film footage.

After a prelude providing a brief history of the country’s early years, the film proceeds to delve deeply into the time when Avner, who had previously served under prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, went to work for Rabin, the country’s first native born leader, elected in 1974. Narrating in a languorous tone that is both soothing and soporific, Avner delivers his observations about such important events as the following year’s first bilateral treaty between Egypt and Israel, the rescue of the Entebbe hostages, and the financial scandal involving Rabin’s wife that led to his resignation.

The Bottom Line

A distinctly personal, if at times attenuated, perspective on Israeli history.

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Avner continued his duties for Rabin’s successor, the hard-liner Menachem Begin, during years that featured such tumultuous events as Anwar Sadat‘s historic visit to Israel, the Camp David Accords, Sadat’s assassination, and the tensions that developed between Begin and Ronald Reagan over the 1982 Lebanon War.

These events will of course be familiar to history buffs. But what makes the documentary distinctive is Avner’s highly personal commentary, whether he’s reminiscing about the literally colorful kosher meal that he was served at a state dinner which led Rabin to announce that it was Avner’s birthday, so as to cover up his own lack of kosher fare; his description of a clumsy Rabin struggling to dance with Betty Ford, only to be rescued by a gracious Henry Kissinger; and his recounting of witnessing Begin putting shoes on the feet of his beloved wife, Aliza, followed by Begin’s joking comment that “marriage is not a word, it’s a sentence.”   

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Ultimately, The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers feels bloated and overlong, and is not helped by the distracting use of Michael Douglas and Christoph Waltz as the voices of Rabin and Begin respectively. But the film is nonetheless a valuable historical document, one that ably fits in with the goals of Moriah Films, a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Production: Moriah Films

Cast: Michael Douglas, Christoph Waltz, Nicola Peltz

Director: Richard Trank

Screenwriters/producers: Richard Trank, Rabbi Marvin Heir

Director of photography: Jeffrey Victor

Editor: Nimrod Erez

Composer: Lee Holdridge

Not rated, 111 min.