Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Hunting Elephants: a Family-Friendly Israeli Caper

Old freedom fighters never die, they just get increasingly irascible. Indeed, even in his advanced years, nobody trifles with Jonathan’s estranged grandfather Eliyahu, who was manning the barricades long before 1948. After the untimely death of his father, the socially awkward middle schooler will get close enough to grandpappy to plan an audacious bank job in Reshef Levi’s Hunting Elephants (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

Jonathan is a tough kid to love, but somehow Daniel, his bank security guard father did. Unfortunately, when he witnesses his father’s heart attack demise, Deddy the jerkheel manager uses his unauthorized presence to deny Daniel’s death benefits. Much to Jonathan’s disgust, his emotionally and financially needy mother Dorit takes up with the oily Deddy soon thereafter. Suddenly in need of a minder for Jonathan, Dorit starts dumping him off at Eliyahu’s nursing home. Initially, the old codger is less than thrilled, but he and his old crony Nick start to like having him around.

Jonathan is also delighted when his long lost thespian Uncle Mike (a.k.a. Lord Michael Simpson) turns up. He is definitely one of those cash poor blue bloods. To get some payback and a few million Euros, Jonathan convinces the old-timers to stage a bank heist, utilizing his father’s inside knowledge.

So yes, its Going in Style in Israel, but the tone is considerably lighter. In a role originally conceived for John Cleese, Sir Patrick Stewart hams it up something fierce as the hammy Lord Michael. Clearly, he is not above playing to the Summer Stock crowd, which makes him a good sport. However, veteran Israeli actor Sasson Gabai (probably best known in America for The Band’s Visit) shows how to play the grouchy grandpa while maintaining a sense of dignified gravitas. Moni Moshonov charts a middle course between them as the genial, mild mannered, and slightly addled Nick.

Despite the occasional excesses of Lord Michael’s flamboyance, Hunting is a pleasant film to spend time with, springing a reasonably fresh twist here and there, especially by the standards of family-friendly comedies. Stand-up comic Levi executes the bank robbery business surprisingly adroitly and he is relatively restrained when it comes to the sentiment. It is small in scale, but determined to entertain. Recommended for fans of Israeli cinema and feel-pretty-good capers, Hunting Elephants opens this Friday (5/8), in major markets.