Mivtsa Yonatan (Operation Thunderbolt) Reviews
Though Golan and Globus films have a tendency to be little more than shallow action-fuelled guilty pleasures, Operation Thunderbolt shows them at some of their most respectful. Made on clearly a very moderate budget, Operation Thunderbolt bases itself on the infamous Operation Entebbe and puts focus into making it convincing and dramatic without turning it into an action-fuelled spectacle. It depicts the events surrounding the PFLP-EO hijacking of 1976 with a very direct style about it, one far from the more commercially obsessive ones of the later works of Cannon Films. However, I cannot help but feel that Operation Thunderbolt is not a film which has aged well.
Having not lived through the time period that Operation Entebbe occurred in or even the location, I can't say for sure precisely how historically accurate the film is. Understanding the motives of the hijacking is difficult if you're not familiar with Zionist history. Unfortunately, I am not one who learned of Operation Entebbe until watching the film and therefore did not embrace the same extent of dramatic strength that contemporary viewers would have. Operation Thunderbolt is ultimately not only a film which is more relevant to its time for the event it depicts, but for the conventions of filmmaking style that it follows.
Operation Thunderbolt doesn't offer much in terms of characters. Taking a disaster-film approach, Operation Thunderbolt depicts its story on a large scale with a large collection of essentially nameless characters, many of which are simply dramatic archetypes. Unfortunately, as the film does not take this same approach to turning the feature into a spectacle, it means that Operation Thunderbolt takes on all the thin and conventional elements of a disaster film without bringing along any of the ones that make it a guilty pleasure. There is actually only one action scene in the entire film, and that is the extremely brief end scene where the titular operation finally happens. Since the film boasts the title of something which actually only happens for a very brief amount of time in the film, it doesn't really deliver on expectations. I praise director Menahem Golan for staying true to the real-life roots of the story and maintaining a respectful depiction of the events surrounding everyone involved, but when it comes to entertainment value I cannot say the same thing.
After waiting around for about two hours for an action climax which is extremely brief, I cannot help but feel that the payoff was far from satisfactory. Since the film was ultimately a very long and slow film which didn't bother to spend time building characters or challenging its cast, it is left as a hollow if occasionally atmospheric piece depicting a historical event. I'll admit that there are some moments of genuine tension that come into play thanks to a subtle touch of the musical score as well as a talented assortment of cast members, but the latter are not given any actual characters which limits the extent of success they can find in the film. And ultimately, nobody is left to stand out as a result since everyone is essentially just as diminutive as each other.
The film is filled mostly with repetitive set pieces and dialogue. It is clear that the feature is a low-budget film, and Menahem Golan manages to work around that, for better and for worse. For worse in the sense that the hijacking never really manages to reach the large scale of disaster that the real life situation perhaps would have and has to resort to a conventional route of extensive periods of dialogue instead of visual gusto. It also works for better because ultimately, the story does feel believable and gets away with using a limited collection of set pieces and locations to establish a legitimate narrative. However, I feel like the film deserved a better script. As accurate as the plotting might have been, there should have been better dialogue in Operation Thunderbolt if it wanted to establish a truly human feel. That's one of the big problems, there is just no human edge in a story about a hijacking. There are plenty of concepts that could have been utilized and actors who are clearly willing to work even if they are not precisely Academy Award calibre, but Operation Thunderbolt fails to recognize their efforts. As a result, Operation Thunderbolt ends up being a sporadically atmospheric but mostly meandering feature largely bereft of feeling. And any slight moments of flair that the film presents very quickly revert back to a slow pace with an absence of anything sufficiently innovative. Operation Thunderbolt is not that much of a bad film, it just fails to present entertainment value that carries the thrills over to modern day which would have been more striking upon the more relevant time frame it was released during back in 1977.
I feel that by modern standards, the best thing that Operation Thunderbolt did was serve as a breakthrough for Menahem Golan and present many of the ideas that he would later explore in the Chuck Norris classic The Delta Force. By that point he had established a career in action guilty pleasures which delivered on the cheap thrills of their promises much of the time, and he combined the best intentions he had for this film with a sense of what he was best at in delivering on a generic contract to the cult following established by Cannon Films. So in all essence, Operation Thunderbolt does present a progressive step forward for the man.
Operation Thunderbolt ultimately presents some of the most respectfully serious filmmaking Menahem Golan has ever done and a step forward for his legacy as a director, but the film is so trapped in the empty conventions of 1970's disaster films that it ends up failing to hold up in the modern day.