The Pitch: Tanks for the memories.
The Review: First off, an apology for that pitch, not really for the awful pun (something I’m a big fan of), but because Lebanon is based on the personal experiences of its first time writer / director Samuel Maoz, and it does feel wrong to in any way demean that experience, especially when it’s portrayed on screen so effectively. The war movie is an extensive genre, and consequently it becomes harder and harder to mine an original vein, so anyone can only hope that any comparisons are favourable.
And the two most obvious here are Das Boot, which covered similar claustrophobia in a confined space, and Waltz With Bashir, the most prominent example of the Lebanon wars being portrayed on screen up to now. Lebanon does stand comparison to either of these, although isn’t quite as good as either. What is common in war movies, and what is most noticeably missing here, is the sense of a central character who provides a strong moral core – all of the four main characters in the tank have flaws in abundance, and there’s a strong feeling that none of them would choose to be in this situation.
The film is almost entirely shot from inside the tank, so the only times we see or hear outside are through the viewfinder of the gunner or on the radio, which serves to ramp up the tension as events take place just out of range or earshot. While the tank moves through events, a series of other passengers on the tank each serve their own purpose to increase the risk faced by the participants.
Overall there are occasional moments of humour and bonding, but since we never truly engage with any of the characters (except when it’s really too late), the movie doesn’t quite have the emotional heft of its counterparts. But while the whole falls short of true greatness, there are a couple of moments of inspiration, most notably when the tank comes under direct attack. Worth the ride for those moments alone.
Why see it at the cinema: The big screen fully allows the confined space of the tank to be contrasted with the world outside, and for the times when attacks come, each is truly impressive and engaging.
The Score: 8/10