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The Beast

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Written by William Mastrosimone
Starring George Dzundza
Jason Patric
Steven Bauer
Stephen Baldwin
Erick Avari
Don Harvey
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Douglas Milsome
Editing by Peter Boyle
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 1988
Running time 111 min.
Country  United States
Language English
Pashtu

The Beast (also: The Beast of War) is a 1988 Columbia Pictures war film directed by Kevin Reynolds and based on a William Mastrosimone play entitled Nanawatai. The plot concerns a Soviet T-62 tank lost during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The movie has enjoyed a recent release onto DVD, further enhancing its cult-favourite status in spite of its disappointingly-low box-office statistics.

Contents

Plot summary

The film is prefaced with a quote from Rudyard Kipling:

When you're wounded an' left on Afghanistan's plains
An' the women come out to cut up your remains
Jus' roll to your rifle an' blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.[1]

In 1981, a Soviet T-62 tank unit in Afghanistan destroys a Pashtun village, before one of the tanks commanded by the ruthless Commander Daskal (George Dzundza) gets separated from the unit, and enters a dead end valley.

Taj (Steven Bauer) returns to discover the village destroyed, his father killed and his brother martyred by being crushed under the tank of the retreating Soviet forces. As the new khan, following his brother's death, Taj is spurred to seek revenge by his cousin, the scavenger Mustafa - and together they lead a band of mujahideen fighters into the valley to pursue the separated tank, counting on their RPG-7 to destroy the tank.

The tank crew is made up of four Soviets and one Afghan. As night falls and the crew sets up camp, the Afghan tank crewman Samad (Erick Avari) educates the tank driver, Konstantin Koverchenko (Jason Patric), about the fundamental principles of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun people's code of honour: milmastia (hospitality), badal (revenge), and nanawatai, which requires even an enemy to be given sanctuary if he asks (see Primary concepts in Pashtunwali).

As the plot progresses, Commander Daskal (called "Tank Boy" during World War II for destroying a number of German tanks when he was eight years old in the Battle of Stalingrad) demonstrates his ruthlessness not only to the enemy, but also to his own men. He despises Samad for his ethnic association to the enemy and, after a couple attempts to kill him, finally gets his wish on the pretext of suspecting Samad of collaborating with the mujahideen.

After Koverchenko threatens to report Daskal for the killing, Daskal entraps him and orders Kaminski (Don Harvey) and Golikov (Stephen Baldwin) to tie him to a rock, with a grenade behind his head to serve as booby-trap for the mujahideen. Some wild dogs come upon him and as Koverchenko tries to kick at them, the grenade rolls down the rock and explodes, killing several dogs but leaving Konstantin unhurt.

A group of women from the village, who had been trailing the mujahideen to offer their support, come across Koverchenko and begin to stone him, calling for his blood as revenge (badal). As the mujahideen approach, Koverchenko recalls the term nanawatai (sanctuary) and repeats it until Taj cuts him free, and allows him to follow their procession. That night, hidden in a cave, the fighters eat - and Taj asks Koverchenko in broken language if he will fix their broken RPG-7, and help them destroy the tank (Da kaboom tank?).

As the remaining three members of the tank crew begin to realize they are trapped in the valley, a Soviet helicopter appears and offers to rescue them. Daskal, caring more for his tank than his men, refuses the offer and simply refills the vehicle's oil and gasoline. They get their bearings from the helicopter pilot and head back into the narrow mountain pass from which they came, looking for the way out of the valley. Ironically, they later return to the water hole to cool the engines, and find the helicopter crew dead; they all had drank from the small pool that the tank crew had poisoned with cyanide earlier. The mujahideen and Koverchenko catch up with the tank crew, and a cat-and-mouse chase begins near the mountain pass, culminating in an opportunity for Konstantin to disable the tank with the RPG. Konstantin fires as the tank is going out of range, but hits only the main gun. Just as it seems the tank will escape, an explosion in the cliffs above the tank sets boulders rolling onto it, disabling it at last. The explosion was set off by the village women.

The tank crew is forced out and Konstantin pleads nanawatai on their behalf. Taj reluctantly agrees. Konstantin tells Daskal that he wants him to live to see the Soviets lose the war, which is "no Stalingrad", and states that "It's hard to be a good soldier in a rotten war...how is it that we're the Nazis this time?" Kaminski and Golikov flee on foot, but Daskal is caught up with by the women, who carry out their revenge by stoning him. Meanwhile, a rescue helicopter appears and despite the camaraderie that has developed between him and Taj, Konstantin goes with the helicopter. Taj orders his men not to fire on him as he is being hoisted up into the helicopter. Before being hoisted up, Koverchenko salutes Taj by holding an old flintlock musket, which Taj gave to him earlier, above his head and the film ends with Koverchenko being hoisted up to the flying helicopter, flying away, the musket still in his hand.

Notable details

  • Several actual T-55 tanks were used in the film although the helicopter used in the film was not a real Mi-8, but an Aerospatiale SA.321 Super Frelon. The tank in question in the movie is actually an Israeli modification of a captured Soviet T-55, redesignated as the Ti-67 and fitted with a 105mm main gun in place of the original 100mm gun, leading some to mistake it for a T-62. Many of these conversions were used by the Israelis during the 1973 war against Egypt. The film's military advisor, Dale Dye, has written that he negotiated the purchase of the tanks over drinks with Israel Defence Force officers in a Tel Aviv hotel.[2]
  • Throughout the entire movie, the only Russian accents were the ones heard on the music radio.
  • The language spoken by the Afghan characters is Pashto. The Pashto dialogue is subtitled but some television screenings have omitted the subtitles.[3]
  • The character Mustafa wore Soviet medals, including the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Army 20 year service medal, the Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Red Star, and a couple of others, all of which were scavenged from dead Soviet troops.
  • At one point during the movie, Konstantin mentions that among other problems they are getting low on petrol. This is inaccurate, as all T-54/55 models are actually diesel-fueled.
  • Dzundza, notable for being quite heavyset in his other performances before and after The Beast, appears in this film to have undergone extensive physical training to fit the role convincingly, as being a tanker would require him to be much thinner and more athletic.
  • The song playing on the radio is "Streetcar Headed East" ("Тролейбус") by Kino, one of the most famous Soviet rock groups of the 1980s.
  • The machine gun that was attached on top of the T-55 was actually a Browning M2 dressed up to look like a DShK.
  • Several British bolt action SMLE rifles (dating back to WW1) seen with the mujahideen are also shown throughout the film.
  • The original soundtrack music was released by CBS/Columbia Records shortly after the movie's debut, written and performed entirely by Mark Isham. The back of the album suggests two tracks, "Badal" and "Nanawatai", but there are in fact ten tracks. Offered in 12-inch LP vinyl, CrO2 cassette and DDD-format compact discs, it is highly sought-after. CD versions are very rare, ranging in open-market price from $50 to $100 each, depending on condition, with ultra-rare, unopened copies fetching far more.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ From "The Young British Soldier"
  2. ^ The Beast--Thoughts on the Production
  3. ^ IMDB

External links








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