The Beast (aka The Beast of War) is a 1988 film that follows the crew of a Soviet tank in Afghanistan as they get lost in the desert and try to make their way out. Directed by Kevin Reynolds — better known for his blockbuster collaborations with Kevin Costner on Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves — The Beast is a seriously underrated cult classic, given new life on Blu-ray by Imprint.
Thanks to the recent wars in Afghanistan, it’s hard for many born in the 1990s or later to remember that the Soviet Union represented an occupying force in Afghanistan circa the 1980s. But they were, and this film chronicles one tank, its crew and the locals who would stop them. It’s quite something that it exists — a film about Russians, starring Americans, set during an unglamorous and ugly war. But that’s key to The Beast’s success. We see the dehumanising effects of war on these men, and having Americans play the Russians might have made the characters more relatable at the time.
George Dzundza as Commander Daskal — the film’s Ahab-like tank commander — is a particular standout in a strong cast, and it’s his serene and gritty ever-evolving madness that provides an anchor for the themes Reynolds examines. Reynolds frames the small personal conflict of the lost tank versus the mujahideen rebels who hunt them as a microcosm of the whole war, and he manages this effectively. It’s a strong effort from the cast and director to deliver a film that will resonate with viewers for a long time.
The film looks fantastic, too, delivered at 1080p. You can see the grit and dirt and really feel the texture of the desert. The uncompromising and realistic visuals underscore the film’s similar view on war as well, and the presentation works in harmony with the film to great effect. Mark Isham’s excellent synth soundtrack does a fantastic job of sonically codifying the film’s evolving madness.
In terms of extras, Imprint continues to go above and beyond with all-new feature-length documentaries on the making of the film and an audio commentary. It’s really fascinating to see the cast and production crew comment on the film in posterity — especially in light of ongoing geopolitical events. Rarely are we treated to such a comprehensive retrospective on such a unique film, and Imprint really has outdone itself here. The extras are simply a must for fans of the film, as well as film historians.
The Beast was not a big hit when it came out, probably because it is not exactly a war film that inspires or moves the heart. It simply shows the ugly reality of war and the lengths to which men will go to justify the unjustifiable. It is a war movie that may not be enjoyable, but it should be seen. Hopefully Imprint’s new release will give it renewed life and more eyeballs at a time when such a film seems more important than ever.