Kino International
Israeli TV star Oshri Cohen is compelling as a commanding officer in "Beaufort."
BEAUFORT — *** 1/2 — Oshri Cohen, Itay Tiran; with English subtitles (Yiddish and Middle Eastern dialects); rated R (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs); Broadway Centre

"Beaufort" begins with a quick history lesson about the decades-long Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which lasted until the early part of the 21st century.

Fortunately, the rest of this Oscar-nominated war thriller doesn't continue in that vein. It doesn't come like a full-length, filmed history lesson at all. In fact, it's a pretty fascinating, sometimes disturbing tale about the emotional and physical toll of combat.

And what the film is able to depict on-screen, in terms of warfare and other violent action, is astonishing. Especially when you consider that this isn't a massively budgeted Hollywood production.

The title refers to an embattled Israeli army encampment in Lebanon. The commanding officer, Liraz Liberti (Oshri Cohen), is barely able to keep things together in the face of the continuing shelling and missile attacks by Hezbollah extremists.

That has made manning the guard station and lookout posts a very deadly assignment.

Liraz and his troops would withdraw from the area, but the roads have been mined and are next to impossible to navigate. That explains the recent arrival of a bomb-squad specialist, Ziv (Ohad Knoller).

He's supposed to clear the path, though things don't go nearly as well as planned. So, Liraz tries to prevent any further damage while his superiors make some contingency plans.

Screenwriter/director Joseph Cedar, who adapted the Ron Leshem novel, doesn't let things get too overwhelmingly bleak. He throws in some off-beat humor to contrast with the heavy character drama. He also gets some strong performances from the ensemble cast.

Itay Tiran is good as one of Liraz's officers, as is Knoller. But Israeli TV star Cohen is the real standout here. He's a convincing, compelling lead, even when some of Liraz's seem a bit unbelievable or out of character.

"Beaufort" is rated R for strong scenes of violence and warfare (shootings, missile attacks, bombings and other explosive mayhem), some strong sexual language (profanity and some slang), gore and blood, ethnic slurs and other derogatory language, and some brief drug content (painkillers and pharmaceuticals). Running time: 126 minutes.

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