‘Hunting Elephants’ and winning laughs

Reshef Levi’s latest film is a crowd-pleasing crime caper with an impressive cast.

July 10, 2013 12:57
3 minute read.
'Hunting Elephants'

'Hunting Elephants'. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Sometimes a movie can be fun not because it’s so well written or so interesting but because it gives some wonderful veteran actors a chance to ham it up together. The Sunshine Boys, with Walter Matthau and George Burns, was a movie like that. And now we have an Israeli version of this type of film, Hunting Elephants by Reshef Levi, which was the perfect light opening film for the Jerusalem Film Festival and is now playing throughout the country.

Hunting Elephants features prime schtick from two of Israel’s top actors – Sasson Gabbai, whose is best known as a serious actor but who has also done comedy; and Moni Moshonov, who started as a comedian but who has moved more into serious acting in recent years.

To elevate this collaboration to more than a late-night comedy show sketch, Levi has brought in a much-welcome guest from abroad, Patrick Stewart. Yes, Patrick Stewart, whom you probably know as either Captain Jean-Luc Picard from the new Star Trek movies or Professor Charles Xavier from X-Men. Stewart is a classically trained actor, who joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and, like most classically trained British actors, he shines at comedy. It’s a great compliment to Gabbai and Moshonov to say that while Stewart may steal virtually every scene in which he appears, he doesn’t walk away with the film. These actors become the Three Musketeers of bilingual schtick.

The plot has been carefully constructed to draw in younger viewers who won’t know these older actors. It’s about a young teen, Yonatan (Gil Blank), whose father (Zvika Hadar), a bank security expert, dies suddenly of a heart attack. The evil bank manager (Moshe Ivgy) won’t pay the father’s pension to his widow, Dorit (Yael Abecassis, doing her best to look like an unglamorous mom), due to a technicality. Much to her son’s dismay, she starts dating the bank manager. She also tries to reconnect with Eliyahu (Gabbai), her long-estranged father-in-law, who lives in an old people’s home. Yonatan starts spending time there with his grandfather and his grandfather’s crony (Moshonov). The highlight of their day is watching the sexy healthcare aide, Sigi (Rotem Zussman), give sponge baths to comatose patients, one of whom is the boy’s grandmother. Eliyahu met his now ailing wife when he robbed a bank, and she was an English girl living in Jerusalem, apparently pre-1948, which only makes sense because the plot needs a way to bring in Patrick Stewart, who plays the boy’s great-uncle.

Until Stewart makes his entrance, the formulaic plot and exaggerated characters are a bit flat, but he injects the film with life and flamboyance. His role is a series of comic bits, one of the best of which is a flashback to him in England performing in a Star Wars-themed version of Hamlet (you can find this clip on YouTube).

Stewart plays a lord and failed actor who is broke and has even sold his title to pay the bills. Between the two old Israelis’ criminal background, Stewart’s talent for making an impression and deceiving people, and the boy’s knowledge of the bank’s security system, which his father was kind enough to explain to him in detail just before he died, it’s the perfect set-up for a caper movie.

If you can sit back and enjoy the comedy routines – Stewart convincing the bank clerk he just needs a loan for a few incidentals, Moshonov pretending to be a nervous old guy worried that the bank is being robbed (they use this “crying wolf” ploy to get the security guards off their game), Stewart doing a music-hall turn at the old people’s home, and Gabbai sparring verbally with his old and new friends – then you’ll enjoy the movie. Subtle it’s not, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a skilled blend of crowd-pleasing bravura star turns and comic set pieces.

Levi , who made Lost Islands, a melodrama that was quite popular here a few years ago, is an accomplished showman and has made an entertaining comedy.

Hunting Elephants 
Hebrew title: Latzud Pilim 
Written and directed by Reshef Levi 
With Sasson Gabbai, Moni Moshonov, Patrick Stewart, Moshe Ivgy, Yael Abecassis Running time: 96 minutes.
In Hebrew and English.

Check with theaters for subtitle information

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