Pub date February 20, 2008
SectionFilm Review

Avoiding taking a political stance in favor of depicting a military operation under extreme circumstances with stark, vivid immediacy, Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort reenacts the Israeli Army’s evacuation of the titular fortress during its 2000 pullout from Lebanon. Constructed next to an ancient castle built by 12th-century crusaders, the enormous bunker — in which characters often seem to be running around like rats in a maze — was taken from the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1982 and fortified to an even more imposing degree. The skeleton crew that remains is anxious about both leaving and staying. As their planned departure nears, surrounding Hezbollah troops step up their shelling to make it appear they chased the Israelis out. This creates numerous harrowing situations; so do the self-doubt and inflexibility of youthful commander Liraz (Oshri Cohen), who makes some serious tactical errors and finally seems reluctant to let the men complete their mission by blowing the whole place sky-high. It’s not on the movie’s agenda to question whether Israel should have been there in the first place, which may seem a titanic omission to some viewers. But by simply conveying the unpredictability, heightened emotions, and claustrophobia of being under siege, Beaufort is perhaps the most visceral war movie since Downfall.

BEAUFORT Opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.