Today’s war movies — like today’s wars — are a long way from The Longest Day. The Hurt Locker, Restrepo (a documentary) and now the Israeli Lebanon are claustrophobic and involved with the almost existential day-to-day survival of their soldiers, mired in tight quarters in Mideast wars where the impossibility of decisive victory seems a foregone conclusion.
Lebanon, from director Samuel Maoz and based on his own experiences during Israel’s 1982 incursion into Lebanon, ups the ante. Virtually all the action occurs either within the tight confines of an Israeli tank alone in a hostile town, or as seen from the gun sight of it.
The four young soldiers are grimy, sweaty, nervous, scared, sometimes profane, sometimes philosophical, sometimes heroic and sometimes not. In this, they seem very human — which is the film’s main draw after one tires of the limited setting.
The four are Shmuel the gunner, commander Assi, ammunition loader Herzl and driver Yigal. Comparisons to Das Boot are inevitable, but the spaces here are tighter (and the action is less dynamic). Because they are played by actors working from Maoz’s script, the characters are more dramatically satisfying to watch than the real American soldiers in Restrepo, whose macho-obsessed lack of introspection wore this viewer out.
Israel is clearly haunted by that war — there’s a tough, embittered melancholy to this as well as 2008’s animated Waltz With Bashir that’s overall much more mature and weary than American movies about Iraq and Afghanistan, which still are full of posturing. But, sadly, it looks like there will be all too many opportunities for our current war films to improve. Grade: B-plus
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