Any thriller boasting Ben Wheatley (Kill List/High-Rise) as Executive Producer suggests a certain level of cerebral provocation, like Nick Gillespie’s Tank 432. This wartime psycho-analysis blends supernatural spooks with hardened, battlefield drama that plunges characters into a hellish descent worse than flying bullets and advancing attackers. Gillespie plays with themes of isolation, paranoia and combat insanity in the belly of a vehicular iron beast, trapping his mysterious conspiracy piece inside a cramped, claustrophobic pressure-cooker. It’s proper intriguing, yet there’s something strangely cold about the whole mission-gone-awry aesthetic – everything just happens so quick. Like you’re hooked by each new stone Gillespie’s caged “heroes” overturn, but when answers finally surface (somewhat), we realize the journey doesn’t quite live up to our own anticipatory hopes.
Shut-in soldiers fight off crazed hallucinations and outside forces while locked inside an abandoned Bulldog tank. Sounds bonkers on paper, but unfortunately, reality is a much different beast.
Gillespie’s introductory scenes present a team of mercenaries who have two hooded hostages (their “cargo”) in tow. Their alertness suggests pursuers are not far behind, as Smith (Gordon Kennedy playing a grizzled vet) barks orders with a certain tone of distress. Capper (Michael Smiley) is injured, Gantz (Steve Garry) finds a poisoned civilian and Evans (Tom Meeten) starts seeing a masked figure in the distance – it’s no easy escape for Smith’s crew. Reeves (Rupert Evans) and Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins) seem to be the only cool-headed militants left, but that’s before the team lock themselves in an old armored vehicle to avoid capture. Confinement and unpredictability – not exactly the play Smith drew up.
Performances are what lead Tank 432, powered by Gillespie’s horrifying depiction of reality-blurring manipulation. As Smith’s team searches around the makeshift metallic shelter, clues are uncovered that suggest their mission is no simple secure-and-deliver paycheck. Haunting images plague nightly dream sessions, and we start to realize a strange gas could be causing deliriousness that infects their mental stability. Some characters fall harder than others (Evans is first to fire at nothingness, while Reeves doesn’t give in until late), but most are able to portray a sense of soul-shaking confusion in the face of the unexplained. It’s governmental perversion on a sickening level of 70s-era unrest.
Rupert Evans is given the most scripted depth, and he does so with confident, solider-of-fortune fearlessness. Therein lies the bigger draw of Gillespie’s screenplay – taking characters who have been trained to fight any odds, and pushing them past their rigid limits. Evans dives deepest into this murky pool of distrust, as Reeves stays sane the longest, yet has the most visceral, emotional reaction. Tom Meeten’s character “Evans” plays the first loonybird, but Reeves is our conduit of stripped sanity in the most affecting of ways – except for Michael Smiley’s Capper.
So, here’s where things get a bit convoluted, and for the worst reason. I love Michael Smiley, who is one of the UK’s strongest supporting actors in the biz right now. His character, Capper, never makes it to the tank because of a leg injury that would slow down the squad’s movement if he was taken along. You think he’s a goner, but right as Reeves starts succumbing to his visions, Capper appears right outside the tank, goading Reeves into charging him (the Bulldog is now mobile) like an angry bull. We rejoice, because Smiley is in true dickish form (insults, wit, pure poke-the-bear entertainment), but it’s all a bit wonky given the realms of reality versus hallucination. There’s more to almost everything (other characters acknowledge the no-longer injured Capper?), yet Gillespie remains reluctant to spill any beans.
Here’s the crux of my issues – Tank 432 wants to plead the fifth given its revelations, but Gillespie also enjoys twisting story elements as much as possible. Nothing is what it seems, but we never really know what’s supposed to be happening, so we’re just hit with a constant barrage of sharp turns that lead to nowhere. Between all the freakish forms, noxious gases, tank defecation and constant paranoia, there’s enough to rouse psychological attention – but closing arguments taper off without a powerful conclusion. What starts with an almost Dog Soldiers feel ends with an appropriately bleak – yet oddly unfulfilling – shut door. And that’s coming from a hard-pressed social cynic.
Tank 432 will march straight into a foggy, steel-encased nightmare for audiences who love being led into darkness, but for me, Gillespie only makes it two-thirds of the way there. It’s not an unmitigated disaster – there are plenty of sequences that draw up taught, deranged tension (plus Michael Smiley absolutely kills it) – just a more mundane single-location suspension of belief. A kill shot that’s a bit off its mark…
Tank 432 does right in building battlefield tension without any gunfire or attacks, but misses its mark in neatly wrapping up yet another paranoid psychological thriller.