I’m not sure how Tank got on my radar years ago — was it the preview on the front of multiple VHS tapes our family rented, the box at the video store, or someone else? All I know is the selling point of a guy who owns his own Sherman tank busting his kid our jail sounded like a can’t miss prospect.
My parents eventually allowed me to see the movie — or at least some of it. I’m fairly certain, though I can’t be sure, that family viewing night probably ended the one time James Garner’s Zach Carey dropped an f-bomb about the apple cobbler served in the base mess hall.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first — the level of swearing in this movie is pretty high. In addition to the f-bomb detailed above, the movie also has both Garner and co-star Shirley Jones using the word “a*****e” (I can only imagine how their use of colorful metaphors clashed with the persona each actor had crafted during their tenures on television shows).
Tank is also advertised as a comedy, even though it’s not necessarily as hilarious as the trailer or the soundtrack would want you to believe.
Garner stars as Army Sargeant Major Zach Carey, a soldier who does things by the book and is looking forward to retiring in two years and setting sail on a boat he wants to purchase. He owns a restored Sherman tank that he moves from assignment to assignment with the family.
Tank opens with Carey, his wife, and son Bill moving to a new assignment in Georgia. After settling into his new assignment and complaining the NCO club is more a discotech than a place to enjoy a libation or two, Carey heads to town one night and starts enjoying the local bar scene (his wife is hosting a meeting of the wives at their home on base). Here he runs afoul of a deputy who doesn’t like Carey’s serenading a local woman named Jenny with his sea-shanty and keeping her from earning a bit of money as one of the local prostitutes.
When the deputy slaps Jenny around Carey steps in and retaliates. Carey immediately realizes he’s done wrong and offers to make restitution. However, local sheriff Cyrus Buelton takes umbrage with Carey and the army not turning him over to Buelton’s custody. Instead, Buelton frames the son for drug possession and intent to distribute, tries to extort money from Carey, and ends up putting his son into the hard labor camp run by Buelton.
Carey eventually realizes he has to step outside conventional methods to save his son using his tank to break him free and flee from Georgia to Tennessee to try to get a fair hearing for his family and Jenny.
Except it doesn’t.
Tank is far darker than the marketing would have you believe. Carey’s family lost their older son in an Army training accident and the younger son has a terse relationship with his father. At one point, Carey is visiting the base hospital and see a young boy getting treatment after his father apparently hurt him. Carey calls the solider into his office and orders him to get counseling, but it barely able to contain his rage when the soldier tells him to butt out. Carey’s anger slowly simmers over the course of the first hour of the movie. Carey is the type of guy who is used to being in control and once his son is arrested, things are taken out of his hands so his only response turns out to be using the tank to free his son and try and get some justice.
The movie isn’t necessarily a comedy, but it’s not a deep drama either. It’s a hybrid that isn’t as funny as it thinks it is nor as dramatic as it could be.
One theme that movie keeps attempting to hammer home is about the importance of family — from Careys themselves to the army as a family. There are multiple points when some of Carey’s soldiers spend time watching his run from the law via the tank on television and they are clearly rooting him on. The undercurrent of family handling things “in-house” is also briefly delved into — from the Army circling to protect Carey from being arrested by the sheriff initially to Carey ordering a man abusing his five-year-old son to get counseling.
As someone who grew up in a military family, I felt like the movie missed a huge opportunity to dig a little deeper into the life of a military family. Seeing Carey’s family move with the moving van in tow is something that never happened for our family (though it could for others).
The movie also requires more than your average level of suspending disbelief. While I can believe that Buelton has as much influence as he does in his small town, it’s hard to believe he carries enough authority to rally a large group of people to pursue Carey, much less block off the road leading to the Tennessee border to prevent Carey, his son, and Jenny from escaping. While we do see a scene with Buelton buttering up the governor of Georgia and the governor refusing to support Buelton, I find it difficult to accept that a politician would take the heat clearly being generated by the media to let Carey get to Tennessee without trying to dissuade Buelton of this course of action. There is also a moment late in the movie when Buelton states (with the media present and cameras rolling, mind you) that the owner of a service station that helped Carey better watch it if a group of citizens decided to take the law into their own hands that evening. (They do, but luckily Carey hears the report and doubles back to help his ally).
And while I do appreciate that the film portrays my state as one that is willing to give Carey and Jenny the hearing they deserve, I can’t say Tennessee is presented in the most favorable light either.
The movie also lacks a great ending. It’s not so much that it ends, but merely stops. Carey gets across the state line with help from a biker gang, a large group of people gathered to cheer him on into Tennessee, and some conveniently placed large equipment and a tow line. And while the film ends with Buelton and his deputy covered in mud and humiliated, they don’t really get any kind of consequences for their many missteps — from arresting Billy to start with to ordering his gang to fire into the crowd on the Tennessee side of the border if they help Carey and the tank. There’s also a question of Jenny and her being forced into a life of prostitution by the deputy as well as an implication that the deputy or Buelton is somehow running the local brothel.
So, that’s Tank. A movie that had some interesting ideas but didn’t execute them well and was horribly mismarketed.