Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
The Schmooze

Casting Call: Michael Douglas Plays Rabin

“Why Sandra Bullock as the voice of Golda Meir?” I asked Richard Trank, director of the documentary “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers” which opens October 18 at The Quad, in New York City.

Bullock, now starring in the mega-hit “Gravity” may leave filmgoers speechless, but as the voice of prime minister Meir, she lacks the prime minister’s earthy gravitas. Michael Douglas with whom I last spoke at the 2008 Elie Wiesel Foundation Gala he attended with his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones channels Yitzhak Rabin’s voice. Also stepping up to the mic are Leonard Nimoy as Levi Eshkol and Christoph Waltz — who won an Academy Award for his role as Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarrantino’s ”Inglorious Bastards” — as Menachem Begin. Trank explained: “We have always used celebrities as narrators for our prior [Moriah Films].”

Michael Douglas Image by Karen Leon

Based on British-born Ambassador and ministerial advisor Yehuda Avner’s best-selling tome of the same name, Avner —as narrator — shares with the viewer the behind-the-scenes travails of Israel’s wars of survival and in Zelig-like relish, dishes insider tidbits. He recalls Eshkol saying of Aba Eban: “He does not know to make the right decision, only the right speech.”

Among poignant cameos is Levi Eshkol’s visit to president Lyndon Johnson’s vast Texas ranch. A former kibbutznik, Eshkol bent down in a cowshed to feel the legs of a newborn calf that had LBJ kvelling Texas style. It was a good moment for Israel.

Avner recalls Menachem Begin, saying — in Yiddish —”Men darf makhn a shehecheyanu” (one needs to make a blessing). There’s take-no-prisoners Golda Meir giving orders and in one sequence dressing as an Arab woman for a secret rendezvous; a motherly Meir shown talking to reservists before a mission during the Yom Kippur War; the painful recollection of Israel getting Phantoms… only to have Charles de Gaulle issue an embargo on spare parts.

Dense with facts and names, what comes across is how close Israel came to being vanquished — and at what cost its survived. For those old enough to remember all — or several of — the wars, this is a revisit to familiar history. Younger and less informed viewers are at a disadvantage due to lack of dates — chronology between wars — one layered one upon another.

“The underlying current [of the film],” Trank told me, “is the desire for each of the prime ministers to find peace. Each one worked for, loved and yearned for peace — most important was Jewish freedom.” Apropos Golda’s resignation [in the film clips], Trank said there will be a follow-up film “ that will stand on its own.”

Finally there is the Yiddish cunundrum! At a time when Yiddish — mame loshn — was perceived as a lingua non grata, a relic of the diaspora which Israel was intent on burying — to be replaced by Hebrew as is post-Holocaust Emah-loshon(mother tongue) — Eshkol, Begin, Meir all resort to Yiddish expressions when no other language will do.

Gey veys. Go see.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.