Variety: Nominated for eight Crystal Lions (the Czech Republic’s equivalent of the Oscars), and a substantial domestic hit, war film “Tobruk” reps a solid work of craftsmanship in every department. Story of a bunch of grunts who get shipped out during WWII to the North African frontline in Tobruk, Libya, doesn’t score many points for originality, but the pic tells its tale well, without sentimentality, and features vigorous, intense action sequences. In a healthier economic climate, writer-helmer Vaclav Marhoul’s sophomore feature might have flown the Czech flag in cinemas offshore, but these days its best shot is in ancillary pickups.
At a training camp in Egypt, two wet-behind-the-ears recruits, baby-faced Pospichal (Jan Meduna) and gangly Jew Lieberman (Adrien Brody lookalike Petr Vanek), are assigned to an army unit led by Sergeant Borny (Martin Nahalka), and drilled by mean-tempered hard nut Corporal Kohak (Robert Nebrensky).
Pic spends a good half-hour or so introducing the rest of the characters (the usual mix of braggarts, jokers, and sensitive, doomed wallflowers) while the men get in shape and enjoy the local brothels before being sent to the front.
Once in Libya, supplies start to run thin and minds begin to frazzle as the Germans pound the line with heavy ammo. Soldiers start to fall one by one. Thinking everyone’s been killed in one engagement, Pospichal gets lost in the desert trying to make his way back to his comrades, but he’s eventually reunited with the unit and survives to participate in the pic’s climactic final scene, a tautly edited, highly suspenseful sequence that ends the story on a tragic high.
Although Marhoul (who’s helmed one previous feature, “Smart Philip,” but is better known for his thesp work) can’t resist utilizing a few war-pic cliches — like turning down the sound to mimic a character’s temporary deafness during a barrage — he deserves praise for his excellent rendering of spatial relationships. Throughout, it’s always clear where our heroes are, where the Nazis are and who’s going where or shooting in which direction. Helping auds understand such cinematic geography is an increasingly neglected art, so it’s refreshing to see such ace work here.
Tech credits are pro, especially use of old-school special effects for the fighting scenes. Cast is uniformly fine, with Vanek and Meduna repping particular standouts.