Retro Review: Tank (1984)

PCA reminds you that the world’s best movies are NOT in the new release section at Blockbuster!

Tank (1984) – Marvin J. Chomsky’s 1984 film Tank, starring James Garner and featuring Shirley Jones, C. Thomas Hall, James Cromwell, JD Spradlin and Jenilee Harrison will never be remembered as one of the greatest films of the 80’s.  In fact, despite a major 1984 release, the film has managed to collect dust in near obscurity for decades.  However, Tank could be one of the greatest films from James Garner’s legendary career, combining melodrama, action and good ol’ good vs. evil in the heartland of America. 

James Garner plays Cmd. Sgt. Major Zack Carey, a life long military man who takes over a post at a military base outside of a small redneck Southern town.  However, what makes Zack Carey different from the other men on the base is the fact that he is the only man in the US Army who owns his own fully operational Sherman tank which he and his sons restored as a side project.  Upon the recent death of his oldest son, Sgt. Carey plans on retiring from the army within the year and spending his final days on a recently purchased fishing boat with his wife LaDonna (Shirley Jones) and his teenage son Billy (C. Thomas Hall).  However, only days after arriving to town, Sgt. Carey finds himself in a local drinking establishment where, while defending a local prostitute (Jenilee Harrison), he beats the snot out of weasily police deputy Euclid Baker (James Crowell).  Upon hearing of the scuffle, the local evil corrupt megalomaniacal Sheriff Cyrus Bueltron (JD Spradlin) decides to make an example on the seemingly untouchable Zack Carey by hitting him where it hurts – his family.  Framing Billy for dealing drugs, Sheriff Cyrus demands a payoff from Sgt. Carey before he sends his boy away to a vicious work camp where kids go in, but often don’t come out alive.  Carey and his wife try to play by the rules, and then play by Cyrus’ rules, but in the end they find that in the world of Sheriff Cyrus’ corrupt system both ethical and nonethical means get you nowhere and there is no such thing as ethical justice in that part of the South.  Pushed to his limits, Sgt. Zack Carey takes things into his own hands and has one hell of a weapon to help him save his son, defeat the corrupted system and become a celebrated symbol for the common man – truth, justice, the American Way….and a tank!

Whats worse then having James Garner pissed off at you? When he's pissed off...and has a tank!

Following on the popularity of films such as Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit, Tank is another example of man vs. the system in a race for the state line.  However, Tank differs from these other films is the fact that the stakes seem to be far higher.  This isn’t about good old boys or truck drivers.  This is about a father saving his son.  In many ways Tank is a revenge film with a PG rating.  When James Garner is pushed as far as he goes he starts to fight back, and you shouldn’t piss off a guy that owns his own tank.

James Garner chats it up with hooker Jenilee Harrison, leading to the boiling point that ignites the fire. Later James Garner lets Jenilee in his tank and shoot his guns...and yes this is a PG film

James Garner is efficient as Sgt. Zack Carey.  Playing the sort of roles that he is most beloved for doing, Garner plays an old school guy with a twinkle in his eye and a lot of grit in his teeth.  However, a second dimension is added to his character as we see him as a loving father who is still in mourning over the death of his eldest son, motivating his unethical and strange methods of saving Billy.

JD Spradlin is a bit over the top as Sheriff Cyrus Bueltron, but he develops a villain worth hating.  A cross between Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning and The Dukes of Hazards’ Boss Hog, Spradlin is powerful and evil, giving Sgt. Carey no other choice but to jump in his tank and declare war on the police department.  Furthermore, James Crowell is brilliant as Deputy Bueltron – a man who walks tall under the might of his badge, but is in fact just a little man with a big mouth who, time and time again, gets plowed down to Earth by the mighty fist of James Garner.

Tank is not without its flaws.  At times the script is weak, and the banter between Garner and Shirley Jones, who have nearly no chemistry at all, is often terrible.  Also, the film does get fairly cornball at times, and the characters for the most part, are cookie cutter stereotypes.  However, the melodrama in Tank proves to be the gel that holds the film together, and the audience can’t help but become captivated as Sgt. Carey and his unlikely crew consisting of a high school kid and a hooker, race towards the Tennessee state line to justice and the promise of a fair trial.  Tank is a likeable film about a father who does what he feels he has to do to protect his love ones, and the triumph of right over wrong.  I have no idea why Tank has not become more popular then it deserves to be.  Dust this one off and share it with friends.  Tank is easily one of the forgotten gems of the 1980’s.

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