The moving new documentary Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story offers an intimate portrait of the kind of man they don’t make too many of these days. With, as the movie poster copy aptly puts it, “A Warrior’s Heart” and “A Poet’s Soul,” Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army, was a fearless soldier who read verse in his downtime, and wrote lyrical letters to his family (his poetic prose, which anchors the film, is brought to life by actor Marton Csokas). Killed while commanding the 1976 raid at Entebbe Airport that freed 100 hostages, Yoni became an international hero at 30.
But if the mainstream media has its way, this important film might not get the attention it deserves. Thus far, key reviews have pretty much dismissed Follow Me as too reverential of its subject.
The life of Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, the only member of the Israeli commando force to be killed during the 1976 hostage rescue at the Entebbe airport, hardly needs a hagiographic treatment. His bravery and accomplishments speak for themselves. …
His story, though, is so well known from books, films, Web sites and more, that the directors here, Jonathan Gruber and Ari Daniel Pinchot, would have been better served by subtlety than by excess.
Accenting the built-in drama of a bigger-than-life life was actually a smart move on the filmmakers’ part. The sad reality, in this age of reality TV, is that if legends are not kept alive through the medium of film, whether on the big or small screen, only avid history buffs are likely to find out about them. And Yoni Netanyau is a legend that more people — especially young American people — would do well to get to know.
Surprisingly, the New York Post is also lukewarm. Writes Lou Lumenick:
Reverential to a fault, this documentary celebrates the heroism of the only Israeli officer killed during the 1976 raid on Palestinian terrorists holding 103 hostages at the terminal of the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. Yet this lofty approach doesn’t give much more than a cursory sense of what Yonathan Netanyahu was like as a person. END
Well, actually it does give more than a cursory sense, much more — it’s just that he was a bigger-than-life sort of person. So if critics are looking for the film’s subject to be ordinary, naturally they’ll be disappointed.
Reverential this film may be, but it would be difficult to find fault with a hero who died liberating hostages, a patriot whose literary skills are admired by no less than Herman Wouk, who contributed to two books of Yoni’s letters. It appears that smoking was Yoni’s only vice.
OK, so maybe it’s hard to believe that a young man could be so distinguished and yet so selfless — the pileup of Yoni’s achievements is pretty hard to believe: A leader since childhood and elected to the head of his high school’s student council at 16, blessed with movie-star good looks and an athletic physique, routinely described as “charismatic,” this paragon was so patriotic that, when his father moved the family (including Yoni’s brother Benjamin, a.ka. Bibi, now Israel’s prime minister) to Philadelphia, Yoni did not want to leave Jerusalem. Later, Yoni won a scholarship to Harvard, but struggled, in the words of his sister-in-law, “between the army and the academy,” always seeking to lead a meaningful existence.