Ben Kingsley, Christoph Waltz and the promise of a rousing history lesson may pull you into this doc about the life and legacy of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism. But its bone-dry tone and pacing will soon have you listing sideways in your seat. It Is No Dream charts Herzl’s life in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail, following him through cities, ideologies, and his evolution from secular journalist and playwright into the most outspoken champion of the notion of a Jewish state. But with Richard Trank’s History Channel visuals, you might as well be listening to an audiobook.
Aside from a handful of talking-head interviews and generic pans over the various European cities where Herzl lived, all we see are old photographs and newspaper headlines drifting listlessly across the screen like fish in an aquarium. The production budget was apparently blown on celebrity narrators: Kingsley dictates in a professorial monotone, while Waltz “plays” Herzl, reading the writer’s letters and essays in a weirdly high, nasal version of his own voice. Worse, canned instrumental music gets soap-opera dire every time the word anti-Semitic is uttered, while major chords follow us through cheery pans over a happy, diverse Jerusalem. You can’t fault Trank & Co. their research into the specifics—but don’t expect a viewpoint about the state of modern Israel that’s anything but sunny.
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