Movie review: Father and son face the reality

A 12-year-old has to face injustice, corruption and pretence among both adults and children.

eli and ben movie 248 88 (photo credit: )
eli and ben movie 248 88
(photo credit: )
3 stars ELI AND BEN (ISR) Drama (91 min.) Directed and written by Ori Ravid In Hebrew Eli and Ben is a thoughtful look at father-son relationships and corruption in Israeli society. It isn't a great movie, but it's a solidly made film with aspirations to please mass audiences. The title is a play on the names of companies that are so-and-so & son, but in this case Ben (Lior Ashkenazi) is actually the father. Ben is a fun-loving dad who actually encourages his son, Eli (pronounced Ee-lie, and played by Yuval Shevah) to goof off at school. Ben is an architect involved in big, commercial projects, who hasn't quite measured up to his father, Oscar (Nissim Nativ), a celebrated architect who is about to be awarded the Israel Prize. Eli is involved in all kinds of pranks at school, and no one, not even his mother (Yael Hadar), is especially worried about him, even when some of the pranks turn violent. Eli's in love with a girl named Shirli, who isn't interested in him, but otherwise his life is pretty much ideal. When Ben is arrested and accused of the kind of corruption that is in the news today all too frequently (selling contracts for a large-scale project he dreams will make him rich), Eli's life is understandably shaken up. He idolizes his father (and it's easy to see why when that father is played by the stunning, charming Ashkenazi). But when Amos (Tzahi Grad), the police detective investigating his father's case, takes Ben under his wing, manipulating him to get the confused boy to give out information about his father, Eli begins to have doubts about his father's innocence. As he realizes the extent of his father's corruption, he begins to question every aspect of his life. He no longer wants to have anything more to do with the bullies, and befriends the smaller boy they were always beating up. But he doesn't let it go at that. He joins the nerds on the school newspaper and writes an article about how the most brutal boy's father buys his son out of trouble by making expensive gifts to the school. He also begins a romance with Shirli's plain but good-hearted friend. At first it's to make Shirli jealous, but then he falls for her. This transformation makes sense dramatically, but it all happens much too fast to be convincing. What is most compelling are the connections between the three generations of the family: The prize-winning, intellectual grandfather, the son who couldn't meet his father's expectations and tried to console himself by becoming rich as quickly as possible, and the confused young teen. When the slightly sinister but charismatic police detective is added to this mix, Eli doesn't quite know which way to turn. Lior Ashkenazi is perfect as the guilty father, and I would have been happy if he had been the focus of the entire film. He is still extremely handsome, but his face shows some of the turmoil (struggles with drug abuse, etc.) he has spoken of in interviews. He's not the pretty boy he used to be. Yuval Shevah is confident and doesn't mug for the camera, but his part has been conceived as a slightly stereotyped, generic teen. Many of the scenes among the child actors are flat and the kids speak in monotonous tones, as if the director were frightened that they would overact. Several plot turns are telegraphed way in advance and some of the scenes are set up clumsily. But when things get dull, the always menacing Tzahi Grad gives the story some life. You can see how a boy would be fascinated by him, and flattered by his attention. Eli and Ben has interesting moments and insights, but it isn't quite the complex film it could have been.