The masses at theaters this weekend, therefore, were left to choose between seeing an old release or a generic romantic comedy that’s widely panned and expected to flop.
Therefore, I’m breaking from my usual theater routine to review a film just released on DVD called “Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story.”
Most folks are familiar with Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister, but now thanks the “Follow Me,” the remarkable story of Bibi’s older brother, Yoni, can enrich the lives of Americans especially, who may not know of the poet warrior who inspired a nation and its future leader.
And this word, “inspiration,” characterizes both Yoni’s life and the movie now made about it.
The Netanyahu brothers grew up in Israel in the days not long after it became a country again in 1948, but then moved with their parents to America.
For Yoni, however, there was a fullness of life in the dusty streets of Jerusalem that he could not find in the lush lands of the United States: “My home is terribly nice,” Yoni wrote, “surrounded by lawns and trees, an empty, meaningless life.”
Dedicated to his homeland, Yoni returned to Israel and fought in 1967’s Six-Day War, wounded in the battle to preserve the young country.
A fine academic as well, Yoni then came back to the States to study at Harvard, until Israel came under fire again in 1973’s Yom Kippur War.
Though he had a young wife and new life in America, Yoni felt the call to defend Israel, to serve “something bigger, more important than [yourself] … namely, the fate of the people you are a part of.”
But Yoni would distinguish himself most in the amazing events of July 4, 1976, when he led an assault commando team into the heart of Uganda to rescue a group of over 100 hostages from a hijacked plane that dictator Idi Amin was harboring.
Leftist German revolutionaries had teamed with Palestinian terrorists to hijack the plane and landed it in Entebbe, Uganda, threatening to slaughter the mostly Jewish passengers unless Israel met their demands.
Instead, Israel sent Yoni.
The resulting rescue of nearly all the hostages, known as Operation Thunderbolt, has been called “a defining moment in the war on terrorism,” the stuff of legends and military strategies and movies and even a video game.
All but four of the hostages were safely returned home. And all the commandos as well … except for Yoni.
“Follow Me” is a documentary of the tale and of Yoni’s remarkable life, the beginning and the dramatic end of his years interwoven back and forth to lend both heart and excitement to the telling.
The filmmakers have resurrected surprisingly intact videos of the Netanyahu brothers growing up and of Walter Cronkite building up the tension in Entebbe. They show dozens of photos of Yoni and conduct interviews with those closest to him – including Bibi Netanyahu – both in and out of Israel’s “Saycret Matkal,” its elite and secretive commando squad known primarily as “The Unit.”
The result is an engaging documentary far more entertaining than the typical film of that genre and an insightful glimpse into the people and land that make up Israel. Then, as now, Israel is a special nation under fire from evil forces all around, and watching the old news footage, from before the media became as virulently biased and anti-Israel as it is today, is particularly revealing.
What I found most inspiring about “Follow Me,” however, was the consistent theme of Yoni’s life, of a man leading his fellow soldiers by example.
There’s a story told, for example, of an exercise where two soldiers collapsed under the weight of carrying a wounded comrade only to see Yoni pick that same man up by himself and haul him miles to safety.
Another story is told of a frightened commando on the tarmac of Entebbe Airport, inspired by Yoni charging past him and refusing to sacrifice the safety of the hostages for his own.
Again and again, “Follow Me” shows how this remarkable man, with a remarkable love for his native Israel, embodied something said of him in an interview early in the movie: “Charisma is the quality, and leadership is the commitment.”
A trailer for “Follow Me” below is well worth watching and illustrates what makes both the film and the young Netanyahu so extraordinary:
- “Follow Me,” not rated, contains neither profanity nor obscenity.
- The movie contains neither nudity nor sexuality, save for discussions of Yoni’s love interests and a photo of him kissing his wife.
- The film does contain some war footage, explosions and burning vehicles, as well as a few shots of injured and bloodied bodies.
- The film has no occult content, but does make several passing references to God and the Jewish religion, such as Sabbath, Hanukkah and Passover, as well as Jewish symbols.