Twelve-year-old Jonathan (Gil Blank) is a smart but awkward kid living in modern-day Jerusalem. Bullied by his classmates, his only friend is his father (Zvika Hadar), a lowly bank security expert who plays chess with the boy and endures his son’s scorn. But when a terrible accident occurs, Jonathan and his beautiful mother (Yael Abecassis) are left penniless. Due to some fine print in the insurance documents, the bank refuses to pay compensation. This is all explained with infuriating glibness by the sleazy bank manager, Deddi (Moshe Ivgy), who proposes an alternative payment plan: the helpless widow can become his mistress.
Sir Patrick Stewart nearly steals the show
Appalled at the idea of his mother prostituting herself, Jonathan has another idea. This springs up when he reconnects with his estranged grandfather Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai, the actor who made such a great impression as the leader in The Band’s Visit, and is surely the Israeli version of Walter Matthau). The grumpy Eliyahu is now living in a retirement home with his comatose wife and a cataract-riddled best buddy Nick (played by Moni Moshonov, a beloved Israeli comedy performer). It turns out these doddering pensioners used to be bank robbers for the Jewish underground, and they’re soon enlisted to help the boy avenge his father. Throw in a disgraced English Lord-cum-Shakespearan actor (Patrick Stewart, yes Jean-Luc Picard himself) and you have a very far-fetched comedy crime caper with lashings of sentimental melodrama and some truly hilarious old-bloke shtick. These comic exchanges travel along the lines of: 'Why are we letting the blind one drive?" 'Because he’s the one who knows the way." Perhaps not terribly original, but it’s all delivered with such terrific energy and the perfect timing of seasoned comedians.
Sir Patrick Stewart nearly steals the show. With dapper dress and booming voice, his version of a pompous and aristocratic thespian is never less than delightful. ('What’s my motivation?’ he asks as they’re plotting the bank heist. And, 'You promised me a monologue!’). It’s no wonder that the scene featuring Stewart in a trashy Star Wars-themed production of Hamlet has become a YouTube hit. Yet the other actors hold their own, helped by a script that’s dripping with gallows humour and some very funny conversations about terrorism, death and Viagra.
The film falls rather flat in the last third. The actual bank robbery fizzles out in limp jokes and clumsy plotting. The film’s female characters are also a worry. They’re lightly sketched as dim-witted sex objects – albeit, very funny in the case of the lycra-clad health aide (Rotem Zussman), who’s lusted after by all the impotent geriatrics in the nursing home.
Written and directed by comedy writer and comedian Reshef Levi (whose own father was involved in underground bank robbing), and produced by Ehud Bleiberg, who brought us the festival hit The Band’s Visit in 2007, Hunting Elephants was an Israeli box office hit when it opened in July this year. It’s easy to see why. Quibbles aside, there’s much to enjoy here, and some guaranteed laughs.