Part “Notebook,” part “Death Wish,” helmer Dror Sabo’s “Eagles” seems a surefire crowdpleaser, its cane- and pistol-wielding vigilante war heroes blowing away every annoying twentysomething they can get in their crosshairs, while mooning about the romance and the Israel that might have been. Providing a large-caliber allegory for contemporary Israeli discontent, leads Yossi Pollak and Yehoram Gaon are perfect as disillusioned old warriors whose age has made them invisible to everyone including law enforcement, their loss and longing synching nicely with their willingness to mow down all the “bastards.” Provocative content and Sabo’s dry sensibility should spell arthouse gold.
Best friends Efraim (Polak) and Moshka (Gaon) spend their afternoons at a Tel Aviv coffeehouse with other old vets of the Israeli underground — the very people who forged a country that, to them, now seems overrun with boorish hedonists who don’t know what it took to create a nation out of nothing. But they’re also simply envious of youth, and angry that they’ve become invisible people, not just disrespected, but ignored.
When a woman is struck by a car outside the cafe, and Efraim recognizes the victim as Tamara, the camp survivor with whom he and Moshka were in love back in the ’40s, his memories and simmering anger connect like fire and gasoline. Shortly thereafter, when two young thugs humiliate the older men on the beach, Efraim and Moshka beat them to death. As the clueless nightly newscast notes, “terrorism has not been ruled out.”
Like something out of a Hitchcock thriller, police find a photo dropped at the murder scene — a mugshot of Tamara, taken when she first arrived from Europe, with her name on the back. Detectives contact her daughter, Dina (the striking Noa Barkai), who thinks she’s been brought in to talk about her mother. While Dina can tell police nothing about the photo, it later dawns on her to connect it with the two old friends, who have been bumping off obnoxious storeowners, Efraim’s noisy neighbor, a ditsy young woman talking on her cell phone — and the guy who hit Tamara with his BMW.
Now and again, Sabo has his two heroes flash back to the war years and their time with Tamara. Although she’s little more than a shadow passing through the movie, she represents something ineffable about Israel, it seems, something beautiful and elusive; a woman who carried the burdens of the Jewish past and yet couldn’t quite pass over into an Israeli future. “Eagles” certainly works as a romantic thriller, but it also suggests something deeper, not just about the country but about the cruel joke of time and aging.
Pic’s style is straightforward, and even gritty, but the results offer a genuine sense of place.