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The Independent Critic

Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Strauss, Dudu Tassi
Samuel Maoz
Rated R
93 Mins.
Sony Classics
Notes on a War Film - The Making of Lebanon; Blu-Ray is BD-Live enabled

 "Lebanon" Review 
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The word is "unflinching" is rather frivolously used when it comes to war films, however, it is ever so seldom appropriate as so many of today's films about war are more staged than suspenseful and far too often mistake graphic violence for realities of war. "Unflinching" is the perfect word to describe Samuel Maoz's feature film debut Lebanon, a truly harrowing depiction of the real life experiences of four young men in a tank crew during the early hours of the 1982 Lebanon war.

Another "real life drama," I can almost hear you mumbling. Just what we need, eh?

While the thought of yet another "true story" is, indeed, rather groan inducing, the story that unfolds is based upon those of writer/director Samuel Maoz, who served during this very war and whose memories and haunted psyche' are brought vividly to life like few war films in recent memory.

The crew's mission is seemingly rather simple - to clean up a Lebanese town that had recently been bombed by the Israeli Air Force before heading off to the invasion's next stage. Of course, this is war and virtually nothing is ever quite so simple. Lebanon is viewed almost entirely from the perspective of the soldiers inside this tank, especially the young gunner (Yoav Donat), who is both front and center yet weirdly detached from the world that is going on outside the thank. 

Many who view the film will recall Wolfgang Peterson's classic Das Boot, a similarly claustrophobic film. Yet, there's something about Lebanon that feels even more devastatingly intense and emotionally resonant. The action that occurred in Das Boot was astounding, yet it would seem that Maoz's personal experiences with this very war have allowed him to also capture the emotional and psychological devastation of this war on a level that simply ripples through one's very being.

Our gunner, Shmuel, haunts the entire film with his initial failure that hangs thunderously over the entire film and everything that happens from early on. The remaining crew includes the commander (Itay Tiran), the crew's driver (Michael Moshonov) and the loader (Oshri Cohen). Encounters with the officer (Zohar Strauss) have an almost menacing feel to them, as if even the crew cannot decide if this is a leader to be trusted or not. It turns out that their wariness is warranted, as their simple mission turns into an astounding ambush.

Maoz does not hesitate to graphically illustrate the all encompassing, overwhelming and psychologically horrifying impact of the war and it is made ever more horrifying through the knowledge that much of what unfolds here comes from within Maoz, who had the script years in the making due to the difficulty of capturing on paper the memories that would constantly invade him while he was writing.

Unquestionably one of the best foreign films of 2010, Lebanon was named runner-up for Best Foreign Film by The Independent Critic and was critically praised by many other media outlets with an Oscar nomination a definite possibility. Lebanon is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 18th, a must-see for fans of war films and anyone who simply admires the perseverance and conviction of a man determined to tell the truth about his experiences in war.

While Lebanon is no doubt an A-/3.5 star film, the DVD release itself is a tad disappointing with minimal DVD extras that could have added a wealth of background information and resources for those not as familiar with the story and the men behind it. Even without the extras, this remains one of 2010's best films.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic