Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Tank 432: War is Hell, Like Really

The M41 Walker Bulldog tank was considered a big step up from its M24 Chaffee predecessor. Its armoring was much more protective and its weaponry was more effective. The only drawback was its especially cramped quarters, even by armored tank standard. You would not want to hole up in one for long with an enemy combatant and a civilian, but nothing will go according to plan for this military unit—or perhaps this was the plan all along, for at least one of them. One thing is certain. They are being played by something or someone, but it is not clear just how earthly their woes are in Nick Gillespie’s Tank 432 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The film opens with the unit in full panic. They have already lost a number of men, plus the moaning and groaning Capper does not look long for the world. We do not get a good look at the forces they are retreating from, but they obviously have the grizzled combat vets badly spooked. As if they needed another cause for concern, a weaponized powdered substance also appears to be in use. It is a chaotic scene, but Smith, their commander persists in leading about two hooded prisoners, who apparently were the objective all along.

As Reeves (the closest they have to level-headed) and Gantz (the snarling hard-charger) reconnoiter, they discover a civilian hostage (or whatever) stashed in a storage locker. She is a bit of a basket case, but their medic Karlsson has plenty of zonk-out injections. They make quite a motley crew when the enemy forces them to take shelter in an immobilized Bulldog. A malfunctioning door trapping them inside makes the situation even more awkward.

In this hyper-paranoid age, the big twist ending comes as no great surprise, at least as far as Gillespie can be bothered to reveal it. Having frequently served as a cameraman on Ben Wheatley’s films (who returns the favor executive producing Tank 432), Gillespie shows a similar affinity for slyly implied narrative revelations, except he is probably even more coy about it.

Fortunately, he also has Wheatley regular Michael Smiley, who absolutely crushes it as the not-quite-as-done-for-as-he-looks Capper. He basically revives the film with a nail-spitting bravura display of hostile attitude. Similarly, Steve Garry’s Gantz almost single-handedly powers along the first two acts with his hardnosed barking. These are exactly the kind of performances that make genre films. Gordon Kennedy also practically chews his way out of the bulldog as the highly suspicious Smith, while Deirdre Mullins helps ground the film as the gritty but charismatic Karlsson.

Gillespie earns credit for helming a tense, unsettling viewing experience. Nobody’s attention will wander during the film, but it ends on a rather unsatisfying note and it does not add up to very much when you take stock of it after the fact. Genre fans should still appreciate his command of the vaguely dystopian near future mise en scene and the vibe of mounting dread. Recommended for Wheatley fans, Tank 432 opens this Friday (11/25) in New York, at the IFC Center.