Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story is a portrait of one of those intelligent, charismatic natural leaders who have a way of always standing out in a room whether they intend to or not—the kind of person you assume is destined for great or significant things. Yoni Netanyahu was a handsome, fierce, ambitious young man who was torn between serving in the Israeli military and completing a Harvard degree in the United States, the latter of which would’ve put him closer to his family, who’d relocated for professional reasons a few years earlier. Concerned with Israel’s turbulent clashes with Egypt and Syria, among others, Yoni chose to serve in the military, quickly becoming a model soldier who would eventually head elite secret missions at the expense of his marriage and ultimately his life. Yoni was the officer who was shot and killed in 1976 while leading Israel’s phenomenally successful raid on the Entebbe International Airport in Uganda that was occupied by Arab and German gunmen who’d hijacked an Air France airliner a few days earlier. Dead at 30, Yoni became an overnight hero.
One hell of a story to be sure, and the filmmakers understand that fully acquainting us with one casualty of a military operation such as the one that went down at the Entebbe International Airport allows us to grasp the larger implications of the kind of day-to-day life that accompanies cultures plagued by frequent bloodshed. A mixture of friend and family testimonials (including three Israeli prime ministers, one of whom is Yoni’s brother), photographs, and chilling war footage, Follow Me is an often moving documentary that goes to great efforts to dispel the American notion of the Middle East as merely a land of war mongers intent on blowing one another apart.
The documentary is briskly paced, often compelling, but a little soft, as it succumbs to hero worship. Far too much time is spent on photographs of the young, hunky Yoni accompanied by readings of letters he wrote to loved ones about his varied military experience, which includes serving in the Yom Kippur War. While the letters are often surprisingly beautiful, particularly to have been written by a man in his early 20s who was continually on the go from one potentially lethal assignment to another, they’re also still clearly the work of a young man figuring himself out, which is a nice way of saying that the letters are naïve and redundant. More attention should have been paid to conveying the logistics of the fatal, globally known operation that made Yoni a martyr, as the details are introduced in a rushed, terrifyingly fevered fashion that’s occasionally confusing. Despite this occasional haphazardness, Follow Me is still an evocative testament to one of those people who are destined to linger in the memories of most everyone they encountered.