All too successful in capturing the drudgery and stasis of men caught in an entrenched wartime holding pattern, Beaufort pinches its widescreen ratio with the fortified passageways and bunkrooms of the titular mountain outpost. Set in the final weeks before Israeli troops pulled out of a 12th-century fort in southern Lebanon in 2000, the film opens with its most productively understated act: A glum, self-aware bomb expert (Ohad Knoller) arrives at Beaufort to disarm mines planted in its single supply road and, forced to put aside his flatly pessimistic assessment of the task’s danger, meets a grim fate. The occupying force consists of far more arid combat-film types, led by young, hardheaded commander Liraz (Oshri Cohen), whose wild insistence that a canine bomb-sniffer remain after his trainer is reassigned smacks more of Queeg-like mania than sentimentality.
Picked off at the rate of about one every two reels by Hezbollah rockets, the soldiers include one who checks off his remaining days of service on a bedside calendar, and another who is urgently encouraged by Liraz to pursue abandoned dreams of a music career. Guess what quickly befalls both of them? Director and co-writer Joseph Cedar, adapting a prize-winning Israeli novel, loses all goodwill accumulated by his competent, plausibly close-knit cast with such heavy-handed use of clichés in a scenario whose characters can only sit tight and avoid death by shelling. (Even the doomed Japanese in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima finally left their caves to fight.) Cedar’s dully earnest chronicle doesn’t shun politics completely—the influence of a families-of-casualties activist group is cited for pressuring Israel to withdraw from Lebanese soil after 18 years—but drowns the specifics of historical circumstance in generic minutiae. When the long-delayed evacuation order arrives and the skeleton crew mines the garrison to keep it from their unseen foes, the resulting fireball signifies nothing in particular; it’s only a noisy anticlimax that permits the troops and the audience to go home at last.