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Hunting Elephants | Review

Beasts of Burden: Levi’s Slapstick Heist Film Runs Amuck

hunting_elephants-posterFor his sophomore film, Israeli director Reshef Levi inserts Patrick Stewart alongside the likes of Sasson Gabai, Moni Moshonov, and Moshe Ivgy for a comedic bank heist in Hunting Elephants. While there’s mild amusement to be had amongst this group of sassy old codgers, the whole endeavor feels a bit forced. Snippets of characters directly addressing the camera frequently distract as Levi and co-writer Regey Levi cut across timespans in attempt to give the scenario added depth. Reinforcing stereotypes rather than playing with them, Levi’s broad scenario feels tonally akin to something like Last Vegas (2013) but entrenched in more archaic stagnation.

Daniel (Zvika Hadar) is a security guard at a bank. While explaining to his twelve year old son Jonathan (Gil Blank) how the new security system works, replete with all the proper codes needed to gain entry, he suddenly goes into cardiac arrest and dies. A footnote in the bank’s insurance policy leaves Jonathan and his mother Dorit (Yael Abecassis) penniless, and so she’s forced to bring her son to Daniel’s estranged father Eliyahu ( Gabai) for help with care. An angry old man whose wife is in a coma in the same nursing home, they reach out to Eliyahu’s British brother-in-law, Lord Michael Simpson (Patrick Stewart). Except Michael is also poor, a Lord only in title, struggling to make ends meet as a stage actor. And so Eliyahu, along with cohort Nick (Moshonov) concoct a devious plan to rob the bank that employed Daniel. Meanwhile, Daniel’s old supervisor Deddy (Moshe Ivgy) begins to romance Dorit, who responds in kind, thinking it’s an avenue to eventually procure the money owed her family.

Having traveled through a handful of film festivals and opening to a successful reception back home, Levi seems to be gearing the film towards the sensibilities of easily amused older men that still take considerable pride in lasciviously ogling women. At least judging by the two non-comatose representatives of that sex in this film, including the demeaned mother played by Yael Abecassis and the outré sexy nurse Sigi (Rotem Zissman-Cohen), who are around purely to provide the men with their only distraction outside of their bank robbery.

Sasson Gabai, recently seen in the excellent Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, is amusing when engaged in banter with Moni Moshonov, but his characterization tends to grate whenever the film takes on serious emotional tones, such as developing a relationship with his estranged grandson. Gil Blank may usurp most of the screen time as the obedient grandson, but it’s a pale distinction here as the film feels like it would have worked better without his character at all.

As the British oddity, Stewart brings some gusto, but this also feels forced, as broadly played as everything else (we get introduced to him on stage during his new show ‘Hamlet: Revenge of the Sith’). As events move forward and switch back and forth, the narrative feels as bungled as the heist that we’ve seen characterized too many times before through fantasized variations.

★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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