Twitter Plot Summary: The story of a lone tank and its crew during the first Lebanon War.
Five Point Summary:
1. So… we’re in a tank. The brutality of war, it’s all outside.
2. He’s just asked for someone to call his parents as he’s their only son. Be surprised if he makes it to the end…
3. And that guy gets discharged in two weeks. It’s not looking good.
4. A prisoner!
5. It’s all started to crumble.
Of my very many genre interests, beneath zombie films, science fiction and westerns are war films. Much like my oft-described interest in zombie films, any genre that does something slightly different with the established tropes and style we’ve come to expect, I am more likely to appreciate the effort. Lebanon is set in the country of the same name during the war of 1982. We follow a single tank crew as they provide support for a platoon of soldiers as they move towards their objective. Naturally the fact we’re in a war zone means that tempers are frayed between the crew, and to call them a cohesive fighting unit would be a massive understatement.
Unlike almost every other war film ever made, Lebanon restricts the action to inside the tank, with events outside seen voyeuristically through the viewfinders available to the tank crew. This causes two potential problems – first that the number of camera angles is limited and can result in a slightly dull interpretation of the script if the director isn’t up to scratch, and second that you need the script to have enough variation and drama to maintain the narrative to a feature length standard. On both counts we’re in luck, as writer and director Samuel Maoz pulls out all the stops, providing a film that doesn’t drop in quality and maintains audience interest from start to finish. Some may disagree with me on this point, but at no point did I have any desire to see the tank crew get out of their tank. With that said, the only part I was less keen on was the incarceration inside the tank of an insurgent who had recently attempted to blow it up. This seemed a touch far fetched, although as Maoz based his script on his own personal experiences in the Lebanon War, who am I to take umbrage at this particular plot development?
That voyeuristic angle is a persistent thread from start to finish. There are a number of close-ups on the eyes of the tank crew specifically, but is also used occasionally on their captive enemy. The fact we’re in the tank and can proceed no further makes us as the audience almost complicit in the actions of the crew, their decisions to kill or not to kill reflecting back on us. If you don’t subscribe to the voyeur theory, then it does at least emphasise the brutality and horrors of war,
By its very nature the story becomes increasingly claustrophobic as time progresses. Finding themselves isolated from the ground troops, tensions increase and psyches begin to crack. It doesn’t help that everybody inside the tank is very young, to the point of being wet behind the ears. Even the tank commander fits this category – there are no grizzled and weary war veterans in the Jurgen Prochnow mould here. More’s the pity, as this is essentially a low budget version of Das Boot with the action switched to a tank rather than a German U-Boat. Slightly less impressive as a result, but another hard hitting entry in the “war is hell” sub category of the war film genre.